This week’s running – 15th to 21st of May 2017

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Yet more tourism at Grangemoor parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Week 2 of the 22 week marathon schedule complete.

5 mile run-commute

Over the last couple of years of run-commuting, I’ve yet to come lucky and be in a position to run home whilst chaos takes place all around me. Last year, it was flooding that increased my typical 1 hour commute to 3+ hours; this year’s calamity was a newly discovered WWII German bomb, weighing some 250kg, which brought everything to a near-standstill.

Hearing rumours that several major roads would still be closed a day later, I shifted my run-commute as a precaution to try and have the last laugh. The roads did open up again and you’d have thought nothing had ever taken place. One of these days… Anywho! The pace was very gentle to factor in the thrashing I’d subjected myself to at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I’ve grown conscious of the rising temperatures, so decided to begin supplementing my water consumption with some electrolyte tablets, as well as training myself to physically drink and retain more water. So, it’s with some irony that the day I decide to kick-start my better hydration initiative is also the day where I was caught in an absolute downpour whilst running from the office…

The rain hit approximately 3 miles in and didn’t let up until perhaps 800m from my front door to leave me completely soaked. I could actually feel the water sloshing about in my shoes at several points!

I had originally intended to cover the week’s 4x 1600m at 10k pace during this run, but sacked that plan off to instead run hard at parkrun. That said, the pace still came up faster than expected and the rain proved quite refreshing and effective at keeping me cool.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Grangemoor parkrun

 

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And 5 x switchbacks…

It’s becoming a bit of a habit, these parkrun tourism jaunts. Grangemoor, Cardiff’s second event, became my fourth new venue in almost eight weeks, and my 18th different venue of all time.

Grangemoor opened with the intent of lightening the load at the original Cardiff event at Blackweir/Bute Park; it could be deemed as a resounding failure with the latter having celebrated several new attendance records in recent weeks.

Taking place next to a retail park, there was no shortage of parking spaces and there was even a helpful marshal to direct people to the start.

The course could be called unorthodox. From above, it looks like a three-point star; runners start at the southern most spoke and work their way to the next, and so on, until they’re back at the start to then cover the same again for two-laps. My technique on switchbacks is atrocious, with a turning circle like the Titanic trying to avoid an iceberg, so I expected to lose significant momentum and time on each of the five hairpin turns. But at least the course is flat and on really nicely paved tarmac!

Looking at past results, a finish in the low 18 minutes is enough to place first most weeks, with a sub-20 finish enough to make it into the top 10, or even top 5 during light attendance weeks.

Off the line, a small group of guys went charging off whilst I hung back to at least better observe on the first lap. Apart from some chopping and changing in the first 800m, I was then left firmly on my own for the remaining duration.

Due to the compact nature of the course and runners returning back to the centre every few hundred metres, Lis planted herself by the “Grangemoor Stone” and was ultimately rewarded with five sightings of me, and possibly a new record for the two of us.

As anticipated, the switchbacks did a number to my pace, and also my joints, from the sudden shift in direction and weight. I estimated I likely lost some 3 seconds on each hairpin, so whereas I was probably working to 19:15 5k effort or so, I actually produced a 19:31 in the end for 8th place.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Looking at the splits, I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out, considering said switchbacks and the mostly solo effort. A little bit of regular VO2max effort and some efficiency and form workouts should get me under 19 minutes again…

A nice novelty to visit, but it’s highly unlikely I’d ever return when I have Cwmbran, Newport’s Tredegar Park, or Cardiff’s lightning fast Blackweir/Bute Park much closer to Lis’ folks – the latter two of which we literally drove right past to reach Grangemoor parkrun!

For those curious, the next stop on my tour of Welsh events is Pontypool in a couple of weeks.

14 miles – to Rhadyr and back

I never expected this long run to go well, but first, let me explain why it was doomed to be…

So, on Saturday night, I went to a 50th birthday party and was introduced to a proper old-school club runner (Salford Harriers). He ran double-days on most days, and even occasionally ran at lunch for the odd triple day. He rarely took a rest day, except when injured or ill, and raced most weeks. His PBs I can recall are:

  • 1,500m – 3:57
  • 5k – 14:59
  • 10k: 30:53
  • 10 miles: 52:07
  • Marathon: 2:45

As somebody that doesn’t belong to the club system, it’s rare that I get the opportunity to speak with runners that are significantly faster. Some of his stories were thrilling, such as him being a classics graduate and running the Athens Marathon. Some of his stories were eye-watering, such as the above said 10k PB where he finished 62nd out of some 300 participants. Others were heart breaking, such as him having to shelve being competitive after two Achilles tendon operations and numerous cortisone injections into trauma sites over the years.

90 mile weeks were not uncommon for him. When asked what he felt allowed him to rack up such mileage, he said, “Life was simpler back then, compared to now.” I could only agree.

Even though I only spoke with him for perhaps 30-40 minutes, the night still ended up being a late one by my standards, also factoring the early-rise for Grangemoor parkrun to make for a helluva long day.

Anywho. Back to the long run…

My legs definitely didn’t feel as fresh as they could have after the 5k effort from 24 hours prior, so I purposely kept the pace slow and the effort easy. Going by heart rate, this was largely achieved with it rarely going above 70% of maximum.

Then, the second half happened and consisted almost exclusively of 7 miles in a more or less straight line into headwind, along with the dreaded Saint Andrews’ Walk Climb to contend with at the very end… I was utterly destroyed upon finishing and couldn’t help but doze off later that afternoon in a bid to catch up on some sleep.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Hopefully, I can time one of my planned 20+ mile runs to happen in Wales to help break up the monotony of them. Last summer, I seem to recall one of my 2x 22 mile runs flying by and not being too stressful at all, due in some part to the more unfamiliar terrain for mental stimulation.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

The mercury is really starting to climb, so I’m expecting the suffering to pop along shortly to wave and stick its tongue out at me. I’ll have to dig out my Salomon race vest and water bottles shortly to really up my hydration game if I’m to successfully complete all of the planned runs in the schedule.

Fitness-wise, I feel like I’m in an odd place at the moment. I’m ahead of where I was a year ago concerning marathon pace, where the effort required to cover the pace is certainly lower at the moment. But I feel completely off in terms of 5k and 10k pace, which have historically given me that feeling of fitness – something I can’t deny I’m craving a little at the moment.

This week’s running – 8th to 14th of May 2017

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Tough day at the Tewkesbury race office – photo by Lis Yu

This particular week led up to the training run that was the Tewkesbury Half Marathon.

5k recovery with Lis

So, just when does a thing become a thing? This was the second time Lis and I went out running together for mutual benefit – I’m getting a recovery run out of it by not going too fast, and she’s getting a solid workout and somebody to pace her.

Lis even encountered that dreaded, “What if somebody recognises me,” when local runner, Ed Barlow, drove past, tooted his horn and waved at us! Teehee…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

2 miles at LT and 1 mile at MP

That comment last week about improving on marginal gains like sleep? Well, I’m failing miserably by not going to bed early enough… I woke feeling pretty groggy and spent much of the day in a bit of a fog at work.

With the way I was feeling, 2 miles at lactate threshold was not a welcome prospect. It’s no secret I struggle at such a pace and to keep it up for 2 miles in training was tough. Thankfully, marathon pace shortly afterwards felt like a walk in the park by comparison, which obviously bodes well for what I’m trying to ultimately achieve.

Here’s the Strava data for this run. I didn’t realise I’d forgotten to wear my heart rate monitor until several miles in, so it’s incomplete data, I’m afraid…

5 mile run-commute

The sudden uptick in warmth and humidity meant hayfever season was just on the horizon. I felt sluggish, though my heart rate at least correlated to an easier effort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Wanting to give myself the best chance of hitting marathon pace with minimal distress at the following day’s Tewkesbury Half Marathon meant volunteering at Cannon Hill parkrun.

Even with a significant percentage of regular runners away or volunteering, Cannon Hill still attained an attendance of 919 runners. Simply incredible numbers when you consider the aforementioned half marathon featured only 1,000 or so participants!

Tewkesbury Half Marathon 2017

For the full write-up, please click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

A little shaken by the struggle in the second half of the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, but not stirred; I still managed 6 plus miles at pace in temperatures I’m completely out of touch with for the time being.

The next few weeks will centre largely on developing a routine. There’s work to be done, for sure, but I’m not worried in the slightest – training’s only just begun!

Tewkesbury Half Marathon 2017 review

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Final few hundred metres at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

The first of several half marathons scheduled in as training runs – read on to find out how things went.

Pre-race

I almost signed up for this race in 2015 and 2016 – the latter especially so because of the PB near-miss at the Cardiff World Championship Half Marathon. For whatever reasons, I opted not to, but decided to give it a whirl this year to kick-start my marathon programme with gusto!

As touched upon recently, I intend to use various half marathons as marathon pace training runs to better prepare me for October’s Yorkshire Marathon. 13 miles of marathon pace as a solo run is quite taxing, whereas it’s far more tolerable in the company of others in my experience. Whether any of these races become PB attempts is completely up in the air at the moment; I’ve no pressure for a half marathon PB with the marathon being the priority.

Taking almost an hour to get to the leisure centre-come race HQ meant leaving Birmingham shortly after 08:00, factoring in race number collection into the mix along with other pre-race admin.

“Chaotic” is how I would best describe the scene as we arrived. Key locations such as number collection and toilets were located in the midst of cars meandering into the field, with general confusion high. Bib collected, I made a bee-line for the already lengthy toilet queue, and this was with just under an hour to go! With a 1,000 expected runners, plus spectators, there were only 10 or so portaloos, with none of the urinal variety to speed up the queue and make things more efficient for everyone. With around 30 minutes to go, the queue had at least tripled in size and snaked around the car park, prompting me to instead seek out a quiet and secluded spot for a pee…

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, I didn’t recognise a single face before or during the race.

Also surprisingly, or perhaps not again, finding a spot towards the front of the start area was incredibly civilised – I’ve encountered more pushing and shoving at parkruns! On the sound of the hooter, we were off.

The race

I’m going to split this section up into two halves, since that’s largely how the race transpired for me.

The first half

Weather conditions indicated I was likely to be in for a rough ride; temperatures of around 16°C and strong winds of up to 12mph hit and meant there was little wriggle room for error. Even at 10am, I was working up a sweat due to the unfamiliarity with the warmth, so I hung on to my bottle of Lucozade to sip on.

I homed in on marathon pace quickly, though did identify the slight uptick in effort required due to above said conditions at play. Lots of runners were targeting a sub-90 finish, so there were plenty of others to run with in a bid to keep the effort low.

Whilst the course was reasonably well marshalled, much of the time was spent on live or semi-live roads with very few closures in place. Jumping from pavement to road grew tiresome, so I quickly planted myself just a few inches away from each kerb for the remainder of the race.

Miles 1 and 2 ticked by for 6:51 and 6:52 respectively; nit-picking, I’d have liked to have been firmly at 6:49, which will be the target to lock in to on the next race-come-training run.

A water station appeared shortly after mile 2. Whilst a touch early by traditional race expectations, it turned out to be rather welcome as it got warmer. Giving runners small bottles was a God-send, where I was able to successfully drink half and spray the other half over myself, rather than fumble with cups.

Runners around me grew sparse, with many falling back as the unideal conditions took their toll. I had to make a few decisive moves to join groups ahead for fear of being left in no-man’s land early on.

Miles 3 and 4 stuck to pace for 6:48 and 6:51 respectively. I could feel the effort to stay on target marathon pace ratcheting upwards, which was hardly surprising as this became my longest stretch of continuous effort at such a pace since January. What the race gave me was valuable, tangible feedback of where I stood in relation to where I wanted to be.

Shortly after mile 4, another water station appeared for yet more welcome relief. Quite why they had 2 water stations in the first 4 miles, I’m not sure – a combination of ease of set-up on the course, and wanting to give runners water early on, I suspect.

Finding a rhythm on the course proved challenging. If it wasn’t undulations that distracted, it was the presence of cars driving alongside and overtaking runners that meant my attention was never fully immersed in either task.

The course began to climb significantly from mile 5 onwards and proved too much for one chap, causing him to start walking. I slowed to check on him, which turned out to be a combination of too much sun and a stitch before he ushered me on.

Miles 5 and 6 were still just about on target, though cracks began to form for 6:54 and 6:51…

The second half

The climb from mile 5 onwards cleared the board significantly and left me with few other runners to work with. All of the compounded factors worked against me for a pretty ghastly time out there as I hung on to marathon pace that was slowly slipping away.

Unusually, I did pass two Italian runners who were liveried up as if they were running a big city race.

The climb finally peaked shortly after 8 miles to produce splits for miles 7 and 8 respectively of 6:55 and 6:59 – not a train wreck, considering the struggle to maintain pace earlier on the flat, though this prominent feature of the course did probably push me over the edge.

Turning the corner, I allowed my legs to loosen up a little to take advantage of the descent. Unhelpfully, I was now following a straight-line route all the way back to the finish with a face full of headwind! I’d picked up a blister underneath my right toe along with a swollen nail, whereas my left foot was seizing up at the arch to make for a pretty sorry time of it all.

Running alongside me was a chap that was the spitting image of Jort from Cannon Hill parkrun, though I knew it couldn’t possibly be him as he was in the Cotswolds with the rest of the BRAT club. This didn’t last long as he crept away to join the pack in front.

Miles 9 and 10 held steady at 6:56 and 6:59, which I probably could have maintained except another sharp climb disrupted my rhythm again whilst going into the final 5k. Mile 11 became my worst offender at 7:22 and that’s when I decided to back it off for good and just coast back into town. I was spent and had little appetite to slog it out and prolong my recovery.

A random spectator on the side of the road shared that it was all downhill back into town, leaving me with just the headwind to frustrate. The group ahead were some 20 to 30 seconds away, with roughly the same behind. The crowds swelled on both sides of the road to cheer me on, so I reciprocated with a few waves and thumbs up for their generosity.

I steadied the ship for miles 12 and 13 to come in for 7:09 and 7:11. Even at the very end, there was little desire to sprint the remainder, where I almost sauntered in to cross the line…

Post-race

I finished with 1:31:15, so some 75 seconds lost exclusively in the second half. Being kind, I at least covered 6 miles at marathon pace. Being charitable, you could even say I covered 10 miles at marathon pace with the warmth, climbs and headwind factored in.

Those three challenges above will need some work. Becoming better heat acclimated will take care of itself; we’re entering summer shortly and there’ll be no shortage of hot and humid conditions to train in. The climbs and headwind will take a little more elbow grease to crack, perhaps with some 800s at pace on long inclines. I lost a lot of strength from my left leg due to the injury, and it was already the weaker of the two when I was in peak shape, so possibly some additional strength work with weights may yield results.

There’s no sour grapes over yesterday – only onwards and, hopefully, upwards!

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

This week’s running – 1st to 7th of May 2017

Running 26.2 miles marathon

5 months. 22 weeks. Time to get serious again…

And so the road to the Yorkshire Marathon II begins!

5k recovery with Lis

The title is slightly disingenuous because it suggests that we both ran together at recovery pace… For Lis, it was more like a fartlek run with walk breaks.

The two of us have tried running together multiple times in the past, but it’s never really worked out because of the pace disparity. I’ve agreed to run with Lis on Mondays as recovery, allowing her to dictate the pace; this should give me a bit of additional easy mileage, which will see me running from Saturday through to Thursday with only one day of complete rest.

Our goal is to build Lis up to being able to run the 10k distance at September’s Wolverhampton Marathon (Dave and I will be tackling the half marathon). This particular run reasserted that she doesn’t need to jump back into the Couch to 5k programme from the very beginning, but rather week 4 or 5.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 x 1600m at LT pace

After almost a year with my Garmin Fenix 3, I was thrilled to finally see it auto detect lactate threshold pace from a recent run-come-race. Sitting at 6:24 per mile, I decided to try out 4 isolated miles during the run home from the office.

Effort-wise, hovering just marginally faster than LT pace felt about right and I finished feeling like I could have squeezed out one more rep:

  1. 6:23
  2. 6:19
  3. 6:19
  4. 6:15

One alteration for next time would be the length of recoveries; 3:20 per rep was far too generous and left my legs cooling down too much, turning to jelly for the first few steps of each subsequent rep.

Definitely heading in the right direction again!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Run-commuting in the warmer summer months is definitely easier than in the cooler winter equivalent; overall, there’s less to worry about and carry, which makes my life a lot simpler when I’m preparing kit to take into the office. One downside of run-commuting in the summer is chafing from bag straps, especially when I’m trying to balance staying cool by wearing a vest and ensuring there’s enough coverage and protection of potential hotspots – Body Glide is a skin saver!

I saw a very, very near miss between a somewhat inebriated chap leaving a bus, and then step out in front of said bus without checking for overtaking traffic. Thankfully, both parties stopped in their tracks just in time!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

What a pleasant evening after work for a run! The sun was out and the smell of summer assaulted my senses, reminding me that summer must be just around the corner.

As intended, I slotted in a mile at marathon pace somewhere in the middle. In an ideal world, I would finish off runs with a mile at marathon pace, though living in Kings Heath means I’m inevitably ending my runs with a climb of some description.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Records fell again, courtesy of the John Enright memorial run, with attendance hitting 1,025 and further cementing Cannon Hill’s status as second largest event behind only Bushy parkrun (Southampton has also broken 1,000). The memorial was, sadly, extended to the departed Darren Hale who passed away almost a year ago.

The start was certainly crowded with so many bodies present, and I found myself having to run wide several times to either avoid being blocked in or just to get some breathing room.

Unintentionally, I found myself tailing Carson Tweedie for much of the run, utilising his pacing. Not having run much faster for months, the steady pace felt much faster than anticipated and I was prepared for a swifter finish, only to be disappointed with 19:24. Encouragingly, my heart rate data continues to drop and indicates some work at 5k pace or faster will set things moving in the right direction again.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – to Brueton Park and back

It was months ago that I last ventured all the way to Solihull’s Brueton Park, so much so that I had to wade through my Garmin Connect and Strava logs to confirm as such.

A single mile at marathon pace (Strava interpreted it slightly differently to Garmin) did just the trick to wake my legs up, with everything feeling far more comfortable in the second half, even considering the far trickier return for home.

Apart from that, it bodes well that there were few surprises when I’m trying to take on marathon training once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

To those new to this section of the blog – welcome! And to those returning to hear me share more of the wins and misses of marathon training – welcome back!

First things first; here’s this year’s modified P&D advanced marathoning plan that I’ll be using to get me race-ready for the Yorkshire Marathon.

So, a couple of answers to questions that will help explain things.

Why Yorkshire again?

The race and organisation (2016 review here) was first class, with little to nothing I would change. Accurate distance, ample crowd support with pockets for breaks, and a course that’s free of congestion makes it a winner in my eyes. Sure, the profile could be a touch flatter, though none of the climbs were particularly troublesome for me and I’d trade in a few climbs against miles of road blocks and anxiety any day of the week.

Oh, and it starts and ends in York, so it has Lis’ buy-in. We both adore the city and there are few surprises to catch us off-guard.

Basically, I want everything that happened on race day in 2016 to be replicated, but with upgraded fitness.

What’s changed with this year’s plan?

In principle, very little has changed between this year’s iteration of the plan and last year’s. The biggest difference is the inclusion of several more half marathons to serve as marathon pace outings. Whilst I didn’t struggle per se with marathon pace in 2016, running at such a pace for extended periods did tax me at times; this year’s goal is to cover the paces whilst leaving me recovered enough to continue training. An odd mile or two of marathon pace during most other runs will ensure ample practice.

Like last year, I have stripped out formal sessions at half marathon pace in the belief that they would leave me too fatigued, but also that parkruns when not run at easy or PB pace will cover that area without getting too hung up on it.

The recovery runs with Lis will get at least an extra 3 miles in each week.

Anything else?

Dave and I will potentially be covering some runs together, seeing as he’s running at the inaugural Birmingham Marathon a week later (which isn’t actually the inaugural race – there was a Birmingham Marathon in the early 80s).

I’m also looking at marginal gains that may have an added impact when compounded with training improvements. Simple things like more sleep, better hydration, eating well ahead of big sessions or training runs. You get the idea. None of these things have a training cost and I’m serious about getting all the advantages I can.

What’s this year’s goal?

Sub-3. 2:59:59.

With my PB of 3:03:05, it would be rude to not go after sub-3, which equates to fewer than 10 seconds per mile when breaking it down. Several of my peers at around my ability are shaving off some 3 to 4 minutes a year in marathons, which gives me confidence in seeking the time.

Here’s also hoping for a sub-3 pacer, where 2016 was the only year without since the race’s inception.

So, there you have it. It’s all been laid out there and I just need to survive the training. My biggest worry is my left Achilles tendon; it’s been pain-free for months, though I can’t shake the feeling that it’s perceivably less supple compared to before.

This week’s running – 24th to 30th of April 2017

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What’s occurring at Barry Island parkrun? Photo by Lis Yu

An unusual week of running is quickly becoming the norm for me…

5k fartlek

Doing the build-up, exhibiting and breakdown at a trade show destroyed my legs and left me incredibly weary. The last thing on my mind was getting a run in, but I knew that I would have to adopt an attitude that runs are non-negotiable if I’m to make the most of the training for autumn’s Yorkshire Marathon.

A 5k fartlek blast around the block did just the trick to stave off any guilt of not running, whist being functional enough to have some small gains.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m officially at that point of the year where I don’t seem to know what to wear anymore, be it for a run, going to work, or casually. Opting to go with a long-sleeve top, sod’s law meant I was inevitably overdressed whilst being near-frozen only a day earlier.

My legs were still completely shot. In the same vain as above regarding non-negotiable runs, I simply went with the 9 miles and reminded myself that I would have to run 14 miles during the middle of the week at some point in the P&D marathon schedule, so should enjoy the luxury of shorter runs from the office whilst they last…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Barry Island parkrun

I have a confession to make… I know I recently discussed that I’m not one to normally go out of my way to get some parkrun tourism in, but I have to admit I’ve developed a taste for it.

Recently visiting Wales’s Riverfront and Scotland’s Ganavan Sands events (and Great Run Local at The Vale), I enjoyed the unfamiliar surroundings and faces, reasoning that now is the time to be exploring other events whilst I’m off peak fitness and without any pressure to perform.

Keeping the tourism theme going, I ventured to Barry Island parkrun with Lis and my mother-in-law, Yvonne, in tow. The three of us are keen Gavin and Stacey fans, with Lis and I particularly fond of the show that mirrored the early years of our own relationship.

Almost at the ripe old age of two years, the event remains typically in the mid to high 100s, with only a single freak 300+ turnout in its history. Like many younger/smaller events, a sub-20 finish is sometimes enough to place first, which got my competitive juices flowing again. Like at Ganavan Sands, the organisers believed that close to half of the day’s runners were new visitors to the event or parkrun.

Just before go-time, there were a few runners that were positively chomping at the bit to start. On the starter’s orders, they flew off from the line in typical 5k fashion with me in cautious tow. The course is unusual for an event that takes place on a coastal promenade. After a few hundred metres of the flat block paving, we made a hairpin turn to the right and began climbing towards the upper levels of Barry Island’s beachfront. Keeping my cool at the beginning paid dividends as I calmly reeled in those that had overdone it too soon. 4:04 for the first uphill km was pretty reasonable in my book for a shot at a sub-20 finish, especially with some downhill stretches later.

The second level of the run dramatically narrowed to clearly demonstrate to me why running with a dog is not welcome at Barry Island. The path also became a gravelly mess with little traction for my racing flat-clad feet. At some point on the upper level of the run, we were sent up a further climb, affectionately called “Heartbreak Hill” by the locals (it even has its own Strava segment). Short, but sharp, it required some proper arm thrusts to propel me upwards.

Descending back downwards at last, 2km came in at 4:04 again for what was shaping up to be a pretty steady run. The course is actually rather compact and with the aid of stairs along the side of the hill, spectators are able to move from level to level with ease to spot runners several times.

Reaching halfway, the course sent participants around a switchback for another lap. With a descent and flat stretch to my advantage, out popped 3:49 for 3km and to move me into fourth place.

Unlike the first lap where I had others to work with and draft behind, I now found myself running solo and faced the full brunt of the coastal winds, exerting more effort than before to maintain the same paces. With a second bash at “Heartbreak Hill”, I was rather impressed that I managed to keep things steady to produce 4:05 for 4km and only a second of slowdown.

Descending once more, third place was within striking distance at one point, but I couldn’t muster enough gusto to chase after him. I felt flat and there was a pronounced heaviness to my legs, no doubt carrying fatigue from the trade show and Thursday’s 9 miles.

Back on the flat block paving of the promenade, I knew I had to produce something in the region of a 3:50 km or faster to be in with a chance of a sub-20 finish. The headwind I faced off against was relentless, with my forward leaning stance having little to no effect. Edging ever closer to 5km, my Garmin fired off some 30m ahead of the finish line to add to the will I-won’t I situation of finishing in less than 20 minutes.

Crossing the line, I clocked 20:05, so probably would have still been off by 1 or 2 seconds even if I’d have recorded 5km exactly. parkrun wins again!

It was good to add Barry Island to the collection, though I won’t be in any rush to return to the venue, considering it took almost an hour to drive there from Lis’ folks place. Next tourism spot will be Cardiff’s second event, Grangemoor parkrun, in a few weeks’ time.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles with 2 at marathon pace

I’m sure my pal, Shaun, won’t mind me sharing his London Marathon Strava data with you all, but his race is akin to a piece of art. The pacing, the sub-2:55 finish from a goal of sub-3 hours – all marvellous stuff. Asking him what he felt contributed to such a breakout performance, he cited plenty of marathon-paced miles, which is hardly surprising. Whilst I felt the build-up to my 2016 Yorkshire Marathon featured ample pace practice, I’m firmly of the belief that I could have included more with little to no detriment to the rest of the training or recovery.

Watching several peers of similar ability go sub-3 at London, I’m confident that with the right training focus and a bit of luck on race day, such a goal is not out of reach for me. The sub-3 performance that’s given me the most confidence belongs to comedian and Running Commentary podcaster, Paul Tonkinson. Finishing almost a minute behind me in Yorkshire last October, he’s gone on to finish London in 2:59:21. Factoring in that London is far more congested and will inevitably measure a touch longer than Yorkshire (I ran exactly 26.22 miles!) further bolsters that my goal has potential.

Anywho, back to this 12 mile run. I’ve been so out of touch with marathon pace that opting to run two isolated miles at circa 6:50 each was like venturing into the unknown. Reassuringly, and even with strong winds to contend with, I managed to hit 6:47 and 6:48 respectively, and probably could have continued going for 2 x 2 miles at pace. Promising stuff!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

My modified P&D marathon plan is almost complete and just needs a few more adjustments before I’ll share it with you all. I will let you in on a little tidbit ahead of next week – my wallet is now considerably lighter, and my calendar is considerably busier than before. Interpret that how you will for the moment…

This week’s running – 10th to 23rd of April 2017

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Well, hello Edinburgh!

With a lack of time and connectivity in Scotland, I’ve got a bumper two weeks’ worth of updates into this one edition for you good people!

10k – 1 off, 2k on etc

So nice, I’ve done this twice.

Whilst the first outing of this session was a bit harsh on the system, I did notice it beginning to elicit some positive change. The second outing confirmed as much with lower average and peak heart rates for the same paces (157 versus 162; 180 versus 186).

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

9 miles from work

These days, I wouldn’t normally pair hard and long runs back to back with each other, especially during the middle of the week when recovery comes at a premium. Given my travel arrangements, I had no opportunity to get a long run in for the rest of the week, so it was a case of make do, or do without. Whilst I did have just a half day at the office to contend with, this also brought the previous day’s session and this longer run even closer together; I figured I’d tackle the 9 miles at a fairly sedate 8:30 or so pace to avoid tempting fate.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Glasgow runaround

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We burnt off the previous night’s deep fried and battered Mars bar…

Ah! Some running tourism!

Dave, Lis and I were in Scotland recently to attend the wedding of our friends, Elsa and Iain. Scotland being Scotland, nowhere is particularly easy to get to unless they’re Glasgow or Edinburgh, so that’s where we began and ended our trip, with a whole load of driving in the middle.

Whilst Lis did less silly things like having a lie-in, Dave and I got better acquainted with Glasgow’s city centre, namely the Glasgow Green. With a planned bit of parkrun tourism the next day, the two of us took this run incredibly easy by keeping it conversational whilst we discussed Dave’s marathon plans and training. We also stopped for the odd photo on what was a very quiet Good Friday morning with few other souls about.

Never having visited Scotland before, let alone Glasgow, I was mightily impressed with the city and took to it quickly. I feel I could have done with an additional day perhaps to get a better feel for it, but I certainly enjoyed what I saw of what is often considered Edinburgh’s poor relation (no offence to any Glaswegian readers!)

I had planned to visit the city’s premier running store, Achilles Heel, to scope out some merchandise I probably didn’t need, but also because it’s where I originally ordered my signature yellow vest from all those years ago! What scuppered it is how spread out Glasgow can be, with a lengthy jaunt not worth the time or effort, especially with Lis and Dave in tow.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Ganavan Sands parkrun

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Iain, Dave, me and Eric at Ganavan Sands parkrun

Raise your hands if you’ve ever needed to be somewhere away from home on a Saturday morning and checked to see if there’s a parkrun nearby, or at least within reasonable driving distance? Yep, I thought so – guilty as charged!

It turned out Ganavan Sands parkrun (just on the outskirts of Oban) was a mere 40 or so minutes away from Elsa and Iain’s wedding venue. With the ceremony at 14:00 and Scottish parkrun events kicking off at 09:30 due to lack of light in the winter months (check out some of Ganavan Sands’ photos of runners setting off at dawn), this was plenty of time to get there, run and return to get ready. I rallied several of the runners in the party together and off we went into the wilds of the Scotland’s west coast…

In attendance was Dave, Iain, Eric, Stuart, Ruth and Stuart’s father. Dave and I were positively thrilled by the prospect of an unfamiliar course with unfamiliar faces, whereas Eric was about to pop his parkrun cherry (no parkruns in Hong Kong). Iain just wanted something to do to pass the time before getting hitched.

After driving through all manner of variable weather conditions, we finally arrived at our destination to be warmly welcomed by the run director, Doreen. Exchanging some dialogue earlier in the week, she was expecting us and passed on her knowledge of the event. The course is an out and back configuration, with a few mini switchbacks in the middle to make up the 5k distance. Run entirely on paved but undulating paths, the course is not for the faint of heart because greeting runners from the very beginning is a near 200m uphill stretch, clocking in at around 17%, gradient-wise!

Warmed up and ready, there were plenty of other tourists at the event, including a chap who’d done some 380+ runs. Proving what a small world it is we live in, I even bumped into a Pistonheads forumite I’ve frequently conversed with in the past. Being one of the smallest events I’ve attended, Dave, Stuart and I fancied our chances of placing highly; scouring previous weeks’ results indicated a 1-2-3 finish between us was not unrealistic. Then we saw some swifter looking runners and realigned our outlook to simply sneaking into the top 5…

Starter’s orders and we were off. And I mean like 5k PB pace off, ignoring the sharp climb we were all aware of. That’s what all the amped up adrenaline and unfamiliar surroundings will do you to you!

After a bit of chopping and changing with the 380+ runs guy, I found myself firmly in fourth place. Halfway through the opening climb, I realised the folly of my way and regretted letting the red mist get the better of me so early on. My legs quickly saturated with lactic acid as I began to thrust my arms forwards in a bid to not lose too much momentum.

Beyond the brow of the hill was some opportunity for recovery with flat and downhill sections.

Holding on to fourth place, I made it all the way to the first switchback whilst witnessing the fella in first place with his massive several hundred metre lead. He appeared to be so calm and controlled, almost like he was simply out on a tempo run. Third place continued to creep away from me, settling my mind that fourth place was now firmly mine to lose.

I began to see faces from the wedding party approach the turnaround, giving them all some encouragement. Eric, Dave, Ruth, Stuart’s father and Iain all looked pretty composed. Stuart looked just like me – we’d both gone out too hard, too soon, and were paying the price for it.

Approaching and exiting the second switchback, my knackered legs gave me a turning circle not dissimilar to a cruise liner. It was at this point that I lost fourth place to the 380+ runs guy, who had clearly paced the first half of the run far more sensibly than I had; I gave him some encouragement to keep pressing in the hope that he may tow me along. Stuart was now perhaps just 10 to 15 seconds behind me based on our relative positions rounding the cone.

Making my way to the final switchback, the guy in first place now had several minutes’ advantage on second place and continued to look as fresh as a daisy – we later learned he’d bagged a new course record, so clearly knew what he was doing unlike the rest of us chumps!

Final switchback navigated, I did what I could to stop my pace from haemorrhaging any further and to keep Stuart at bay. He was still some 10 to 15 seconds behind, but I knew he had far more of an edge on me, thanks to his fell running experience and the largely downhill remainder of the course. With just a couple hundred metres remaining, a few glances behind me confirmed the gap between us remained as I opened up my strides to make it to the bottom of the hill as quickly as possible without stumbling and making a fool of myself.

20:35 recorded and fifth place in hand, I proceeded to hunch over and avoid throwing up from all the pooled lactic acid. Stuart came back in shortly afterwards for 20:47, and Dave for 20:51. Both Stuart and I wished we’d adopted Dave’s approach, where he looked far more comfortable than either of us for a finish time not all that different.

Eric was next with 24:05, followed by Ruth for 25:56, Stuart’s father with 33:04 and Iain for 36:07.

Incredibly, 4 of the top 5 finishers were first timers on the Ganavan Sands course. Taking one step back, the top 7 of 10 finishers were also comprised of first timers to the course. Taking an even more holistic view, 41 of the 73 recorded runners were first timers on the course or to parkrun!

I thanked the organisational team before we high-tailed it out of there to get our man Iain married off. I’m not sure I’ll be in a rush to head back to Ganavan Sands, or that I’ll ever find myself in that part of the world again, but one thing’s for certain – the Scottish hospitality was in full flow that morning and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more welcome at a parkrun.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Edinburgh runaround

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A run around Holyrood Park to burn off the Scottish breakfasts…

Before leaving home, I’d mapped out what I hoped would be a scenic route from the hotel on Princes Street to take me around the outer perimeter of Holyrood Park. Well, it certainly didn’t disappoint, what with the imposing sight of Arthur’s Seat to keep me company.

The primary objective of this run was to get my bearings of that part of Edinburgh, along with some photo opportunities whilst most slumbered.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Edinburgh runaround II

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Worth getting up early to avoid other tourists!

-3°. -3°! What the hell was I thinking packing just t-shirts, vests and shorts for running in Scotland?! I’d already sacked off the idea of running in a vest at Ganavan Sands parkrun in favour of a t-shirt… I actually had to buy a pair of gloves whilst out and about later on this particular day!

My legs were destroyed from the previous day’s 10k and sightseeing, including Edinburgh Zoo and Holyrood Palace. 3 miles, not even 5k, was more than enough!

Setting off even earlier than Easter Monday, I paid a visit to Edinburgh Castle whilst it was quiet – so quiet in fact, there were just two other souls in front of the castle at circa 07:15!

A detour around the Newtown area added to my growing working knowledge of Edinburgh’s streets – look, no map required!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Edinburgh runaround III

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The climb felt a lot longer…

Lis and I previously climbed Arthur’s Seat, unwittingly choosing one of the more challenging hiking routes, and only discovered a far gentler climb when descending back down. Observing a few runners making their way up to the peak via this route, which is still a challenge in its own right, I had the idea to make this the highlight of my final run in Edinburgh…

En route, I stopped off at Calton Hill to grab a few photos of the city from above whilst it was still quiet.

Once at the opposite side of Holyrood Park, I began my climb towards Edinburgh’s highest point. Even with the easier to navigate route, I was still blowing at times and opted to cover a slightly less direct path to give me a few short opportunities for recovery – a slight run-walk strategy was certainly necessary at times!

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What a view! And all to myself!

At the peak, I had Arthur’s Seat entirely to myself for a few minutes. Lactic acid cleared, the tranquillity and views were worth the effort. Then came the challenge of descending… Wearing only road shoes, I wasn’t confident at all navigating the rocky paths and even considered if it would have been easier to descend backwards temporarily. A sideways shuffle gave me the stability and braking effect I needed until I was back on grass.

If you’re heading to Edinburgh, certainly consider taking your running shoes with you – you won’t regret the extra space they take up in your bag after getting out there.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Great Run Local sandwich

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No barcodes to lose, get soggy, or steal at Great Run Local!

Despite a weeklong break in Scotland, I returned to work more tired than ever; meetings and preparations for a trade show meant there was little time or desire to run until the very tail end of the week.

Several weeks ago, Dave, Simon and I had planned to incorporate the Great Run Local event at Birmingham University’s The Vale into a long run. In principle, Great Run Local is just like parkrun, and here’s a list of similarities and differences for those curious:

Similarities

  • 5k distance
  • Free to register and enter
  • Volunteer organised
  • Timed

Differences

  • 2k option offered
  • Times recorded via RF wristband (free; not technically chip timed, since finishers are still manually timed)
  • 10:30am start on Sundays – events appear to be free to choose a time and day of their liking

I’ve seen a lot of heat thrown at Great Run Local online, and whilst some of it is of their own making (their website originally claimed they were “like parkrun, but better” – thankfully, this has been taken down), we need to remember that the local teams are entirely volunteer led. Yes, it may be a doppelganger of parkrun from the Great Run behemoth, but I’m of the belief that anything that gets more people running can only be a good thing – and there were faces at the event that I’d not seen at Cannon Hill parkrun before, despite both events being relatively close to each other in terms of travel time.

Right. Enough soapboxing…

I arranged to meet Dave at The Vale ahead of the 10:30am start. Due to misjudging the distance from Kings Heath to The Vale, I definitely did not give myself enough time to run to the venue. What originally started out as a jog gradually became a progressive run as I realised I was likely to miss the start! I really didn’t need the pre-run anxiety; my heart rate was already amped up by some 5bpm before setting off due to just feeling a bit run down of late, and the -4 condition score from my Garmin confirmed as much despite not having run for 3 days.

Arriving at 10:29, I was at least already warmed up and anticipated a rolling start to keep the momentum going. Thankfully, the organisers were running a few minutes late to give me a short breather beforehand. Talk about cutting it close!

From the line, it was incredibly civilised with none of the crazy sprint antics from parkrun. I found myself in a group of five, letting others set the pace whilst I followed. The first of three climbs split the pack apart, leaving just an older chap and me leading the field. His breathing on the hill was far heavier than mine and it was obvious he was putting in more effort to maintain pace. Unfamiliar with the route, I drafted behind him; he began zig-zagging to shake me off and that’s when I knew he probably had some race experience in him.

Descending the other side, Dave unexpectedly joined us; originally only wanting to jog around the course, he was fed up of running alone to join the fray. Dave and I continued to let the third member of our group pave the way, though reaching the hill for the second time, he fell back by a couple of steps and settled in behind me to run with Dave. I only caught snippets of their conversation, but it seemed the guy knew of me. Was he a blog reader? Or perhaps a Strava follower? Or maybe I’d pissed him off previously in a race and he’d done some sleuthing? Anyway, Dave began spilling the beans and shared that I was completing the 5k event as part of a 14 mile run. Never give away more than you have to!

Opting not to look backwards (sign of weakness), I continued to pull away on the hill to play to my strength. The gap increased to the point where I could no longer hear footsteps or breathing behind me for much of that km.

Third lap and final run of the hill, I continued to press on and maintain my lead. Descending on the other side, I was suddenly able to hear breathing and footsteps again. I reasoned it wasn’t Dave and must’ve been my pursuer.

Entering the final and short lap, he was nipping at my heels and I easily lost a few steps due to my unfamiliarity with the course. In the blink of an eye, he drew level with me and gapped me by a few strides. Whilst I fully expected him to increase the distance between us, I was able to hang on and prevent any more rot from setting in; that being said, the 15 second or so deficit was too much for me to make up. He would have been running on adrenaline in the firm knowledge that 1st place was his to lose from that point.

I finished in 20:36 and second place, whereas the chap in first place clocked 20:22. He revealed that he wanted to get a fast final km in the bag of around 3:30 or so, regardless of our race, which undoubtedly pushed him on for the win. Whereas I didn’t set out to be in contention, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t hold back on the second climb to instead take him on the third run of the hill. Silver ain’t to be sniffed at, mind, and Dave made it on to the podium, also, for bronze.

Impromptu race finished with, I had 5 slow miles to chew through for home… Yay.

Here’s the Strava data for this run, along with the ‘warm up’ and ‘warm down’.

This week’s running – 3rd to 9th of April 2017

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Back running. Back racing! Photo by Liz Dexter

Huzzah! My first full week of uninterrupted training since December!

10k – 1k off, 2k on etc

Identifying that I currently have proportionately more pace than endurance, this off the cuff session was cobbled together in a bid to try and better bridge the two disparate elements. Target pace for the 2k intervals was in the region of 7:00 per mile, so 2016 marathon pace or thereabouts.

The session wasn’t as tough as I envisaged. I was able to hit marathon pace without much difficulty with my legs often wanting to go faster. The only struggle appeared during the climb on Holders Lane at pace, though that’s hardly surprising. All in all, a positive outcome on both physical and mental fronts in terms of training effect and confidence building.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 miles commute from the Bullring

Much like the last time I had a complete and uninterrupted training week, it was December when I previously embarked on a run-commute. I even gave that lengthy interview about my experience run-commuting – I feel like such a charlatan! Anywho, what’s in the past is in the past and I’m doing what I can to move onwards and upwards once again.

One of the first signs of how alien run-commuting had become was packing my kit the night before. I used to have a routine that was all completed on auto-pilot, whereas I found myself having to think quite long and hard about what was needed.

Needing to pick something up in Waterstones, I opted to get changed into my gear there, though John Lewis is still my first choice for availability and cleanliness of facilities.

Looking to keep things easy, where I’ve typically treated these run-commutes as recovery runs, I aimed for around 70% of max heart rate, which translated to 8:50 to 9:00 minutes per mile (excluding climbs).

Whilst not the most exciting of runs, this was once a staple of my weekly recovery and training – re-introducing it did wonders to re-establish training normality. Sometimes, it’s the sum of the parts that delivers the biggest bang.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Ah! Another of my old faithful runs that made a re-appearance!

Some of you may be wondering why I’m so keen to get back to something that bears some semblance to a full training week. Well, it’s my desire to begin the P&D marathon schedule again in mid-May as preparation towards October’s Yorkshire Marathon. I thrived last year whilst under the tutelage of Mr Pfitzinger and Mr Douglas, producing a rewarding marathon PB that would have been the stuff of lunacy based on my previous marathon performances. I want to be in the right kind of shape to be able to tackle the training, which, as many of you will recall, was pretty intensive at times.

I’d seemingly learned nothing from last year, where doing whatever I could to make runs and sessions comfortable was the priority. I normally eat a banana mid-afternoon to top myself up for an evening run, but because I wasn’t feeling hungry, decided against it. This, naturally, ensured the first half was awful, mired by hunger and low energy levels. Somehow, I found second wind from seemingly nowhere to at least have the second half feeling much stronger.

I won’t be repeating that mistake anytime soon, hopefully!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

I adopted somewhat of an inverse taper strategy towards Sunday’s Ronnie Bowker 10k. Not recommended, normally, but I wanted to get back to running five times a week rather than sacrifice another week for a low-key 10k.

Having said the above, I still wanted to give myself a fighting chance at the race, so Simon and I took parkrun nice and slow, settling on 7:30 per mile/4:40 per km. “Nice and slow” is of course all relative; whilst we were fully conversational, having a natter about Simon’s recent holiday, there were people blowing up all around us – we even heard people whispering, “How are they able to still talk???”

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Afterwards, I previewed to Dave the adapted P&D Advanced Marathoning schedule that I will use for October’s Yorkshire Marathon. The plan is to tweak and modify the schedule so that Dave can also utilise it, albeit without as much mileage, but leaving semblance of the core marathon pace and mid-week medium-long runs intact.

Ronnie Bowker 10k 2017 review

Please click here for the rundown of the race.

So, am I back?

In total, I clocked just over 35 miles for the week, which is the most I have run since mid-December.

It’s taken much longer than originally anticipated, but I think I’ve finally turned a corner and am excited about running again. The past week felt as close to normal as I could have hoped for with some training, some racing and some planning.

Yes, you read that right – planning! I’m not quite ready to share my modified P&D marathon plan with you, just yet, but I will say there will be more races squeezed in to take the edge off the marathon pace sessions.

Am I back? You betcha!