Wolverhampton Half Marathon 2017 review

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A glass medal from the Wolverhampton Marathon, Half Marathon and 10k

As is now customary in my marathon plans, Wolverhampton became the lucky venue to serve as a glorified pace session in the build-up to the big race.

Pre-race

After last year’s dreadful Kenilworth Half Marathon experience, marred by illness, I had little desire to return there. I hasten to add the race was well organised, but I simply wasn’t able to capitalise on it due to being under the weather. The alternative – the Wolverhampton Half Marathon – became Plan A, backed also by Lis’ debut in the 10k race.

Rather than put myself through unnecessary suffering and potentially delay recovery again, I opted for caution and limited my goal to just marathon pace, or a touch faster, so as not to pile on too much stress in the remaining crucial weeks ahead of race day. A short taper beforehand gave me a fighting chance of success. Dave Burton was in tow for similar reasons, whereas Darryll Thomas, and Shaun Hemmings who we bumped into, were in the pursuit of some new PBs over 13.1 miles.

With a 09:15 start (Lis’ 10k kicked off at 09:40), we made sure we were firmly on site in West Park with an hour to spare to take care of any necessary pre-race admin. For the size of the event, the organisers actually did a damn fine job; toilets were plentiful and they even had urinals to ease some of the congestion. Warming up in the park was also a novelty, where so often it’s incredibly difficult to find space immediately next to the race village (I’m looking at you, Bristol).

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We’re about halfway through the photo on the left – photo by Express & Star

Once in the start pen, it was all very civilised with plenty of space and no sense of panic. The majority of participants were there for the half marathon, which we later discussed would make for a rather lonely race for the marathoners going on to do their second laps.

The race

With such a small field, getting away from the start line was smooth and unimpeded. I dialled into my marathon pace target of 6:50 almost immediately, with the effort feeling incredibly easy in light of the blowy conditions we runners found ourselves in. Groups of runners quickly formed and whilst I instinctively wanted to speed up to join them for the wind break they offered, another part of me reasoned that I needed to stick to plan for the pace practice, and organically attaching or detaching from groups was the best approach. Mile 1 beeped in for 6:49 to be right on target; rather than bore you all, I’ll only make reference to pace or mile splits when they dramatically deviated from the norm.

In the distance, I could see a rather large group had formed with local BRAT runner, Mark Ince, leading the way. He looked far too relaxed and steady to be racing, so I reasoned he must’ve been down for the marathon. Mild spoiler: he ran the marathon as a long training run and won it in 2:53!

I was warned of the many twists and turns through Wolverhampton suburbia. I was readily reminded of the Sneyd Xmas Pudding run and I could only imagine how soul destroying such sections of the route will have been for those caught in no-man’s land in the marathon. Mile 2 benefitted from a nice downhill stretch for the fastest split of 6:43 for the morning.

For miles 3 and 4, there were few around me to run with. I bought into the idea early on that if I couldn’t handle marathon pace for long stretches alone, then what chance would I have come race day? Thankfully, marathon pace continued to feel incredibly relaxed, and with the strong gusts of wind factored in, confidence was high. Dave being his usual meticulous-self had studied the course map in great detail, highlighting a few novel sights to us beforehand. Such novel sections of the route included the local sewage refinery (which we passed no fewer than three times) and some random detour through a school.

Looking at the time, Lis was due to start her 10k race debut. The last couple of miles of both the half marathon and 10k course converged and we roughly figured we would all come into contact in the closing stages.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was caught off-guard shortly after mile 5 when we entered what appeared to be a long and narrow park that ran adjacent to the canal. The path narrowed and I latched on to a runner ahead for a break in his slipstream. His breathing was incredibly heavy at not even halfway, so I prayed for him that he was only running the half marathon. Mile 5 slowed just a smidge to 6:52.

Continuing the theme of unexpected course elements, I was directed to make a sharp right on to an unpaved off-road section of the route where it was largely a case of running single-file, or running on the grass to overtake… Whilst I was already in a bemused state, I then found myself being paced by a cyclist and one of the official race motorbikes! To their credit, they maintained a very steady pace ahead of me for much of this section and took themselves off the course when they identified they could no longer overtake ahead and would only slow me down. The crazy as a box of frogs mile 6 clocked in for 6:47.

Leaving this section, I merged with a group of runners that managed to creep away from me earlier on in the race. I most definitely did not speed up to reach them, so they definitely slowed. To further disrupt their pace, an up-down-up-down set of underpasses appeared, leaving only me and one other still on it. Marathon pace continued to feel comfortable, especially in refreshingly cool conditions.

My memory gets a little hazy at this point for miles 8 and 9. Mile 8, in spite of featuring liberal doses of twists and turns through housing estates and a sharpish climb, still managed to produce a 6:45 for the third fastest split of the morning.

In spite of what the elevation graphs depict, mile 10 was not nearly as steep as one would imagine. Having said that, it proved no less challenging due to where it appeared on the course. I accepted the 6:58 to 7:00 pace that appeared on my Garmin and reasoned the descent on the other side would get me back on track for a 6:49 average.

Somewhere between miles 10 and 11, the 10k route merged with the half marathon and a stream of additional runners came into view. Psychologically, this was quite welcome after long stretches of running alone as it introduced bite-size chunks of progress. I kept a look out for Lis in the distance and finally spotted her just after mile 11, running alongside what looked like the Grinch that stole Christmas… Giving her a cheer and some encouragement to stay strong for another 2 miles, she shared that she’d already seen Darryll go past minutes earlier, so I knew he was on to something big. I alerted her to Dave’s incoming presence that was likely to be no more than a minute or two away. Doing some quick mental arithmetic, I was travelling at almost twice Lis’ speed, and with 2 miles remaining, I would have plenty of time to finish and get back into the crowd to see her.

The number of 10k runners swelled with some running on the pavement and others on the road. Just in front of me, a very vocal runner that cheered on many of the 10k participants came to a stop when orange wedges and sweets were being offered by a family. Unsure of whether he was in the 26.2 or 13.1 mile race, he re-joined the course just behind me and continued his cheers. “You’re making this look far too easy,” I joked with him. “I’ve got another lap to go! Gotta keep my spirits up,” was his jovial response. Advising that I should have been “kicking on”, I revealed that I was out on a marathon pace training run. “Ahh! Well, in that case, you’re looking like you’re bang on pace. Keep it up!” I thanked him for his encouragement and wished him well – he wasn’t even at halfway yet…

Straddling the outskirts of West Park, I could see and hear the commotion of the finish line. Frustratingly, the course took runners away from the park momentarily to bulk out the distance to make up 26.2, 13.1 or 6.2 miles. Darryll and I researched typical recorded distances beforehand and we were both confident the race would measure very precisely with very little to no excess. With so few other runners around me, I had run a very clean race line and was upbeat that I wouldn’t have to put in a mad sprint to make it back in less than 90 minutes.

On the approach to re-enter the park, a trio of 10k runners got to the narrow gate just ahead of me. “Sorry! Coming through,” I had to holler to avoid clattering into them. On the grass finish straight, I knew I would finish on target with change. I got a mention over the PA system and gave a few thumbs up, feeling very much like a fraud. Mission accomplished!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race that wasn’t a race.

89:11 in 22nd place were my spoils to leave me pleased with the morning’s efforts.

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Darryll (84:23; PB), Dave (1:33:23), Lis (1:12:42; debut), Andy (89:11)

I collected all the finisher’s paraphernalia on offer and made a beeline for a gap along the finish to catch Lis coming back in. Unsure of whether Dave had finished already, or not, I was just able to catch him finishing in 1:33:23. He and Darryll (84:23 for a PB) soon joined me to cheer Lis finishing her first 10k race (1:12:42). Bumping into Shaun as we were leaving, we learned he had also PBd with 81:48 to finish 6th overall.

In all, I was very satisfied with the event and organisation. It did exactly what I needed of a build-up race in that it wasn’t too expensive, there were more than sufficient water stations and facilities, and the distance was damn near perfect. Whilst Wolverhampton can’t compete with the raft of other city races on offer in the autumn, I’m not sure it necessarily needs to because it does what it does incredibly well.

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This week’s running – 21st to 27th of August 2017

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Why am I doing this again?

Week 16 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Yes, just 6 weeks remain until race day!

5k – aborted 10 miles

After the previous Sunday’s 22 miles that were cut short to 19, I wanted a little bit of redemption and confirmation that it was just a fluke occurrence. Over 48 hours later, I felt a little more with it and concluded I was at least on the mend… Or so I thought!

Setting off from work, everything felt fine as anticipated. 2 miles in, the effort ramped upwards and I began sweating profusely for what should have been an easy pace to hit. Reaching 5k at Brindley Place, I knew the game was up and called it quits before walking through the city centre to commute back home. More recovery needed to shift the bug!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Achoo!

So, my suspicions were proven correct when my symptoms manifested into a full on bout of nasal infection. Runny nose, congestion, sneezing fits, fatigue and headaches – reads like the back of a box of cold medication!

The congestion and snot I could deal with, but it was the fatigue and feeling of being packed out with cotton wool that prevented me from even running at an easy pace. I’ve tried many times over the years to run whilst still viral and I’ve concluded I’m actually better off just waiting it out.

Riverfront parkrun

Originally as part of my marathon plan, I had the Severn Bridge Half Marathon down as a glorified marathon pace session. That all went up in smoke when I missed out on the previous week’s 22 miles, so I opted to skip the race in favour of another bash at 22 miles. Lis and I were in Wales anyway to visit family, so a bit of parkrun tourism was in order.

Also, originally as part of my plan, was a visit to the recently launched Caldicot parkrun. Flat and very straight over 2 laps, it was to be my 21st different location – sod’s law, then, that it was cancelled! Lis wanted to get a parkrun in as some race prep ahead of her own 10k debut, so we swapped Caldicot out with the similarly flat Riverfront parkrun, which I’d already recce’d several months ago.

The effort was always meant to be just under 20 minutes, but with numbers down due to the half marathon the following day, the opportunity to place highly was on offer.

From the line, a group of four shot off and forged a sizable gap ahead of the chase group and me. Their pace was far too tasty, so I hung back with everybody else, seemingly pacing for around 20 minutes. The first km rolled in at 4:03, which I concluded was too slow and felt too easy, especially as my legs felt incredibly fresh after several days without and also confirmed I was pretty much healthy again.

I pressed on alone and surprised myself with how effortless it felt. Conditions were damn near-perfect for swift times, with low wind and marginally cooler temperatures. Before too long, a member of the group ahead came into view and I moved from fifth to fourth with ease. 2km ticked by with 3:53, which was more like it!

Nearing the halfway switchback, I could see second and third place had been concluded with the two now running solo; third place continued to slow and it was almost certain I would podium that morning. Reaching halfway, I was caught off-guard when the marshal asked me to cut out a bridge that formerly made up part of the course (later revealed due to instability!) 3km came in for 3:51.

The time came to strike. A short surge allowed me to overtake, remaining on the throttle until completely clear; I heard his cadence increase momentarily in an attempt to tuck into my slipstream, though it dropped back down again after a few seconds as I pushed on.

Second place continued to drift in and out of sight on the horizon, but with a sizable gap between us, it was tricky to gauge whether I was closing on him or not. 4km remained steady with 3:50.

As the remaining distance ticked by, it remained dicey whether I would catch the guy ahead, or not. He looked back at me a few times and I knew he was hurting, simply based on how fast he’d gone out and how long he spent running alone. With perhaps 400m remaining, I was within touching distance and with 300m to go, I kicked with purpose and dared not look back. Passing by some windows, I could see there was nobody on the edge of my reflection; nonetheless, I continued kicking all the way for the line, just in case he had a little something in reserve for the final drag ahead of the finish.

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Bridesmaid once again…

Turned out I was quite comfortably in second place by some 9 seconds!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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Lis’ fourth different parkrun venue

After obligatory handshakes and congratulations to the third and fourth place guys (the winner had disappeared, finishing some 90 seconds earlier!), I gathered my things and cheered Lis in as she made her way for the finish.

Interestingly, the volunteer co-ordinator for the event stopped us for a chat and asked if we were keen to volunteer on occasion; we had to rain on his parade and break it to him that we weren’t from the area, but did our part regularly at Cannon Hill. I know Riverfront has difficulty gathering volunteers like many events, but I am curious to see if the casual enquiry approach yields much uptake or not.

22 miles – to Little Mill and back

Ill or not, the enormity of 22 miles in rural south Wales seemed far more palatable than it did in Birmingham a week prior. There was something to the route that made it, mentally, more manageable, having run it once before in its entirety a year ago.

Anticipating a warm one, I loaded up with two flasks of Coca-Cola and stowed two gels away into my ultra vest – I didn’t want to take any chances and needed to ensure the run was a success, identifying that there’s little-to-no margin for error left in my plan.

Expectedly, the first couple of miles were slow, what with my impromptu race at Riverfront parkrun only 24 hours earlier. Gradually, the pace came and I found myself quite happily hovering at 8:00 to 8:10 miles for much of the second half – by pure coincidence, there was even a pub I passed at 10.5 miles, called “The Halfway House”!

The effort markedly increased at around 15 or 16 miles, notably due to the sun reaching its midday peak overhead. A cold garden hose would have worked wonders!

The final 2 miles were a very good simulator for the closing stages of my marathon. Whereas miles flew by earlier, I found myself counting down to trees only 100m ahead to get me through the grind. Thankfully, I’d also rationed my supplies well, leaving just a few sips to keep me company when things felt at their worst.

Standing between me and the end was the vicious Saint Andrews Walk Climb Strava segment, coming in at 800m long and peaking with a 14% gradient. Funnily enough, this particular setup mimics the closing 800m of the Yorkshire Marathon, albeit with less intensity – at least I’ll be well prepared!

Upon finishing, I was spent as the accompanying photo at the top of this post will attest to. I poured 3 or 4 pints of water over myself to cool down, whilst necking a further 3 or 4 pints to rehydrate. Intriguingly, my quads were also smashed – something I don’t recall happening a year ago on exactly the same route. My only explanation is the steep descent at 19 miles must have done a number on them, whereas I may have simply negotiated the downhill section better in 2016. That and my legs had probably lost a bit of resilience from being away on holiday and a further unplanned lower mileage week.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

A week of two halves, with the second half being completely unrecognisable from the first!

I have just one 20-21 mile run and a 22 mile run remaining in the plan. I’ve always applied the basic goal within a marathon plan of my five longest runs equating to 100 miles or more; all being well from here on out, I should total some 105 miles.

It’s strangely all becoming very real again, with race day creeping and lurking closer and closer!

This week’s running – 14th to 20th of August 2017

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Week 15 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Suppose feeling bleh had to happen eventually…

Searching for for 4% improvement

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Some of you may remember that I waxed lyrical after trying on the Nike Vaporfly 4% for just a minute or so a number of weeks ago. Well, the itch needed scratching and I was fortunate enough to land a pair of them whilst taking advantage of my Vitality 50% discount for a very hefty saving. If only the tale was as simple as that and ended there…

On the day I was due to receive them, I received an email to alert me of my order being cancelled due to mis-forecasted stock levels! Suddenly, my want of the coveted Breaking2 shoes for my own Breaking3 project became a need. After a lot of palaver with Sweatshop and Vitality, I was able to track down a pair (0.5 size smaller, but , luckily, a better fit) and reactivate my discount, so all’s good with the world again. Marginal gains – making sure things I can control are maneuvered in my favour!

5 mile run-commute

There were a helluva lot of people out running on Monday evening. It must be peak training season ahead of autumn races!

This was another test of the prior week’s heat training in Greece and I appeared to pass – even running with a bag on my back, I was considerably less sweaty than on similar run-commutes.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 5 at marathon pace

I felt ropey all day, but gave myself a stern inwards talking to that the planned 11 miles with 7 at marathon pace were needed. I had everything prepared – the route, nutrition before and during, and the right gear. Setting foot on the canal towpath, the wind was howling in the wrong direction towards me and I knew I’d be exerting more effort than necessary to achieve marathon pace, or so I thought!

The pace felt quite manageable, even into the wind. My heart rate also corresponded well to the effort in spite of the conditions and mild feelings of carrying some sort of low level bug. Having a reasonably fast run-commuter to chase down and Richard Keep of Bournville Harriers on his bike to cheer me on also helped to take the edge off things. Ultimately, I opted to call it quits at 5 miles of pace work, wishing to prioritise the planned 22 mile long run for later in the week.

Jogging past the Red Lion pub in Kings Heath, a large group were huddled and drinking underneath a beer garden umbrella. One lady, upon seeing me running in the rain, shouted out, “Look at him! I’m having this for him!” I encounter a lot of idiots when I run, so it’s always a pleasant surprise when I don’t.

Here’s the Strava data for the warm-up, 5 miles at pace, and warm-down.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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Darryll, Adam, Matt, and me

Cannon Hill has had a few special guests over the years, with Adam Gemili being the latest, albeit as just a volunteer ahead of the following day’s Birmingham Grand Prix at the Alexander Stadium. Did we give him the bad juju? He false started and had never false started before meeting us lot…

I still didn’t feel right come Saturday morning, concluding that I’d come down with something similar to what afflicted me before and during last year’s Kenilworth Half Marathon, although some two weeks earlier this time around.

Starting off with Darryll Thomas, we stuck together for the first 2km before I ushered him on to creep away. I found myself unable to go much faster, but did become an impromptu pacer to help get Harry Fowler across the line with a cira-10 second PB.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

19 miles – aborted 22 miles

Oh, dear… I’ve never had to abandon a long run and cut it short in quite such a dramatic fashion before!

The plan was to cover the first of two 22 mile runs before race day. Whilst I’d not felt right all week, I did at least wake feeling more like myself and figured I’d still be good to go, though keeping the pace scaled back and conservative in the name of self-preservation.

Route-wise, I headed out along the canal towpath to my once-upon-a-time stomping ground of Edgbaston Reservoir. Not having set foot on the 1.5 mile loop for a year or so, I was caught off-guard by how low the water level had become. I did spot a family attempting to pet a pair of very large swans, clearly never having watched Hot Fuzz…

The wheels began coming off sometime around 14 miles. Up until then, the effort aligned reasonably well against the more conservative 8:30 per mile pace… From then onwards, I struggled to be able to call upon more from myself, where it felt like my heart rate simply wasn’t prepared to go beyond 80% of maximum.

I continued plugging away with the feelings of wanting it all to end growing stronger with each step. Somewhere around 17 miles, I picked up a debilitating stitch that I couldn’t shake, which of course also contributed to rising effort levels.

I reached 19 miles and a sudden shooting pain along my lower ribcage convinced me the game was up and it was time to stop. I was put out of my misery at long last, but I had a new problem – the 2 to 3 mile walk home from Bournville train station on Mary Vale Road…

Not being too despondent, I made the most of a shitty hand of cards that I’d been dealt. Effort-wise and time on my feet, the 19 miles won’t be too incomparable from a faster-paced 20 or 21 mile run. I have opted to cancel next week’s Severn Bridge Half Marathon, which I would have covered at marathon pace, in favour of another 20 or 21 mile run – hopefully illness free. I do have the Wolverhampton Half Marathon in early September, and the Robin Hood Half Marathon a fortnight after that for plenty more marathon pace work ahead of race day, but I can ill-afford any more poor 20+ mile runs.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Cause or effect? It’d been a particularly stressful week, so I do wonder whether I could have sidestepped the low level bug (likely a nasal infection) if my cortisol levels were lower? Or was I always destined to come down with something, given last year’s similar timeframe?

This week’s running – 6th to 13th of August 2017

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Warm-weather training and recovery for me!

Week 14 of the 22 week marathon plan saw some recovery on the Greek island of Crete.

A week in Elounda

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What a backdrop for running!

Long-time readers will probably have gathered that I have a problem with sitting still and I usually struggle to find time to simply sit back and relax, preferring to be in the driving seat of life. Whilst I was initially reluctant about going away this summer, the timing actually worked quite well to see me pushing my way to the front of the queue for a week in the Greek sun.

Of course, there was running, though distance was pared back to coincide with the plan’s recovery quota. Fortunately, Elounda on the eastern side the of the island peaked in the low 30°s, with the odd breeze and low humidity making warm weather training that bit more tolerable and productive.

Recovery was also high on the agenda, with much time spent not doing very much at all. I also took advantage of the on-site health spa for several massages, focusing on my legs. Meals at the hotel were protein-heavy, again taking advantage of the opportunity to really treat my body to some quality recovery time.

Also, does anybody else try and identify who’s likely to be a runner whilst away? On the flight, I spotted a guy with a Fenix 5X who also wore Hokas. In the hotel, I saw a guy with a Suunto GPS watch and a Boston Marathon finisher’s t-shirt. No? Just me, then…

4 miles – to Elounda and back

I hadn’t even been in Greece for 12 hours and already bagged a reccy run into the main town to get my bearings. The place reminded me a lot of some of the medium sized coastal towns that can frequently be found in Spain and Italy. Awkwardly, the paths, whilst paved, were made up of random pieces of slate or similar at different heights; I had to ensure I had decent foot clearance to avoid tripping over at times!

At 4pm, the temperature was bearable, aided by the gentle pace and flat terrain. Naturally, I did get a few strange looks; tourists from China haven’t really made it to Crete yet, so I naturally stuck out like a double-whammy sore thumb.

Whilst Elounda is incredibly flat, our hotel happened to be situated atop a hillside. It’s a blessing that we were stationed in one of the lowest rows of rooms to street level, with other guests frequently relying on the hotel’s golf buggy taxis for collection and drop-off. All of my runs ended with a steep 20% gradient climb, lasting some 150m, though I was at least able to quickly peel down to my shorts and jump in the pool to cool-off!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

3 x 800m

The schedule said I needed 8 miles in total with 5 x 800m reps at 5k pace. Completing such a session outdoors would have required running before dawn, and even then, the mercury was still around 26 to 28 degrees for not much difference to day time temperatures. I was left with the hotel gym as my last resort…

I hadn’t run on a treadmill since March, which was just an easy 5k jog. The last session I completed on a treadmill was years ago. Like running again after injury, running indoors on a moving belt took some getting used to again.

I’m always dubious of the reported distance on treadmills if they’ve not been calibrated. I’m also dubious of the reported distance of Garmins when reliant on the built in accelerometer or a companion foot pod. In this instance, I took my chances with the Garmin, as it would at least have had time to calibrate to me for outdoor runs.

3 x 800m reps at pace was all I could manage. The lack of visual feedback from the speed was off putting and the air conditioning was inadequate for the job, due to simply not being powerful enough to cover the small room. I quickly decided running outdoors, even in the heat, was more productive and less mentally jarring.

Here’s the Strava data for the session.

4 miles – to Plaka and back

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The view of Spinalonga whilst running to Plaka

Upon checking-in, various hotel staff and the travel rep all said not to walk to Plaka – the next town over from Elounda. “It’s 40 minutes in the heat!” and “There’s no pavement!” were typical warnings. We took them on board, but after a taxi ride there, any fears over safety were quickly dispelled – running to Plaka turned out to be just like the country lanes I’m used to in Wales, except with gorgeous weather and the visually impressive Spinalonga as a backdrop.

I kept my wits about, as a few bends commanded I switch sides of the road to give me and drivers a better view of each other. Graciously of the Greek terrain, the route was pancake flat and I actually found the roads far smoother to run on compared to Elounda’s pavements. Other runners must have felt the same, because, despite the slightly higher risk involved, I always spotted more runners heading to and from Plaka. To boot, all drivers slowed down as they approached, also giving me a wide berth which is more than I can say I receive at home!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 mile fartlek – to Elounda and back

Rather than suffer the treadmill again, I turned my route to Elounda into a fartlek run. I’d not completed a fartlek in months either, so committing to one in the heat would be quite a test.

Things started off easily enough, but then several minutes into the fartlek, it was as if somebody whacked the thermostat right up! It really was bizarre, with the low and benign sun suddenly scorching my skin and leaving me withered. Clearly, I hadn’t adapted to the heat yet…

All said and done, this was still preferable to suffering on a treadmill and not physically go anywhere!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 miles – to Plaka and back

Early on into this run, I was reminded not to lose concentration, because on the side of the road was a car that had somehow collided with a crash barrier to then end up as a complete wreck on its side.

I witnessed even more runners on this route than before, all of us giving each other a nod or a smile in acknowledgement of our collective fitness pursuits, even whilst on holiday.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10k – to Kalydon and back

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The Kalydon peninsula

A tour guide recommended I set out to the Kalydon peninsula, connected to Elounda via a bridge, so that I did to break up this final run of the trip. Shortly after crossing the bridge, the terrain quickly turned to loose gravel and trails; I was perfectly fine in a pair of road shoes, though I required a good dusting off upon finishing! With more time, I’d have loved to explore the entire peninsula, though would forever be wary of getting lost with my lack of a sense of direction…

This was my longest run whilst in Crete and I was finally reaping the reward of six straight days of training in the heat. I was barely sweating, despite being well hydrated, and what little sweat I did produce was virtually devoid of any salt.

Nearing the hotel entrance, I noticed a coach pulling in to drop off some new guests. Not wanting to disappoint the makeshift audience, I raced up the hill to audibly hear gasps as I pulled away. Air conditioning at full blast came to my rescue upon finishing…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – to Brueton Park and back

Eugh. Lis and I were picked up at 22:45 on Saturday evening, arriving at the airport for 00:45, before departing Greece at 02:30. I managed to get perhaps two hours of disturbed sleep during the flight, before finally arriving back at home for 05:30. Three hours of sleep was all I could manage before naturally waking again. As you can imagine, a medium-long run of 16 miles was low on my priorities for the day… Delaying the run until the late afternoon and trimming it down to 14 miles at least gave me a fighting chance!

In the pursuit of more marginal gains for my coveted sub-3 hour marathon, I splurged on a pair of Nike’s racing split shorts, akin to what many of the male Team GB members have been sporting at the World Athletics Championships over the last 10 days. Debuting them on this run, they’re certainly short with just a 2 inch inseam… Thankfully having spent most of an entire week wearing nothing but swimming shorts, I’d at least acclimatised mentally to the skimpiness! The benefits? Less weight from less material, less restrictive with a wider range of motion, and more ventilation for better airflow and temperature regulation – the last point was key, as I grew incredibly warm during the final 3 miles of last October’s marathon.

The run itself felt fantastic. Conditions were perceivably spot on for running; whilst the reported temperature was 20°C, the heat adaptations of the past week had me feeling much cooler, again barely breaking a sweat. My legs also felt incredibly fresh, no doubt helped by the several deep tissue massages I treated them to. Late afternoon/early evening on a Sunday meant roads were mostly clear of cars and pavements were mostly clear of other pedestrians, making for a largely unimpeded run.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

The week’s break from the norm looks to have done just the trick to get my mind and body ready for final third of the marathon campaign.

I have the first of two 22 mile runs coming up shortly, along with several half marathons to be tackled as glorified marathon pace training runs. I’m confident the training will get me to the start line in October, though I’m conscious that I’ll need to prioritise recovery, too. More and better sleep is what I’m lacking, though with daylight hours rapidly diminishing, I’m hopeful that me being a light sleeper will naturally resolve itself.

This week’s running – 30th of July to 5th of August 2017

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The week ended with my first visit to Dudley parkrun

Week 13 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Almost time for a recovery week…

5 mile run-commute

With travel plans and houseguests putting the week into disarray, I kicked things off with a 5 mile run-commute to set things in motion. Timings simply worked out better that I run from Birmingham city centre for home, rather than return home and then head back out the door for 5k. The boosted distance also helped stop the week’s mileage from dropping too low from shuffling planned runs around.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles from work

So, last week’s 14 miles after a day at the office wasn’t too bad, thanks to good preparation beforehand. Could lightning strike twice for two good runs? The answer, unfortunately, was no.

The Magor 10k really did a number on my calf muscles for both to remain tight, even with judicious massage over the course of several days. From 11 miles onwards, my legs felt lifeless and the firm ground underfoot only made matters worse. I altered my route slightly to give myself an easier time, diverting off the Bristol Road and back on the canal, rather than proceed on to the undulations of Bournville and Cotteridge.

I did have one strange encounter whilst on the towpath before it forked for the entrance/exit of the Soho Loop; one guy running towards me slowed to ask, “How long is this?” Confused by his question, I also slowed – the question was simply too open-ended and had too many variables! “I need to run 14 miles,” came his follow-up. “Ummm. Well, you’re technically on the Soho Loop now, which is around 2 miles per lap,” I responded, before moving on. I simply could not run like that – not knowing how far I had gone. Even that time I became horrendously lost in Peterborough, I had at least plotted out the route and it was only due to a complex interchange that I lost my bearings. This guy seemed quite happy to just Forest Gump it and keep running, though not wearing a GPS watch, how would he know how far he had gone if he didn’t even know where he was?

Here’s the Strava data for my 14 miles, at least!

5k recovery

Hmmm. Odd one this, where in spite of the 14 miles only 24 hours prior, my legs and lungs had a bit more welly to them than originally thought. Dropping the anchors did nothing and my body instinctively wanted to go faster…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

16 miles with 8 at marathon pace

This is where training kicks it up a notch for my longest stint of marathon pace outside of a race; probably my most consistent block of marathon pace, too, this season!

Just like a year ago, I created a mini-transition area in my hallway with a change of shoes, tops and some drinks to allow me to come back from my 5k warm-up and head back out with minimal fuss.

Marathon pace on the out towards Solihull required about as much effort as I envisaged; neither easy, nor overly taxing. Exiting the switchback in Solihull, aye caramba! I found myself running straight into a 10mph headwind, losing a few seconds per mile from the increased resistance. I did consider calling it quits at 8 miles, but once I’d reached Brook Lane’s monstrous climb, I had just a mile remaining to spur me on to complete the set; “Beep, damn you, beep,” became my mantra for those closing few hundred metres!

I cooled down by heading over to Cannon Hill, opting to run the parkrun course in reverse to unlock the Darren Hale segment; it was a year ago that he passed away and I could see no better way to commemorate him, albeit at a very sedate pace…

Here’s the Strava data for the warm-up, 10 miles at pace, and warm-down.

Dudley parkrun

With Cannon Hill cancelled, Dudley became my 20th different parkrun venue!

I seem to suffer from selective hearing when it comes to parkrun courses, because all I seemed to focus on was the opening and closing 800m on a synthetic track. I completely ignored the middle two miles on a real pick and mix of gravel, canal towpaths and woodland trail…

After a brief warm-up on the track with Simon and Nigel, we toed up on the start line for the first of two laps. Expectedly, the start was swift with several big dogs pulling away with an attempt from me to hang on to their coat tails. They continued to pull away as I drifted backwards and another two guys overtook me on the second lap; clearly, I was feeling the effects of the previous day’s marathon pace and the split warm-up of the morning proved inadequate.

Leaving the track, next came some gravel paths before hitting the canal towpath. The lead group splintered to send a few back to me, forming a pack of four. Not feeling fresh at all, I cheekily drafted behind somebody to take some of the edge off, but primarily because I had no clue as to where I was going! The group of four became two as the others slowed and my impromptu pacer and I maintained pace.

A sharp right took us off the towpath and into the woods for a fast off-road downhill section. My pacer made a breakaway, utilising the descent beautifully to press on away from me; unfamiliar with the terrain, I gingerly navigated the rutted ground and tree roots for fear of coming a cropper hours before I was due to travel. I was reminded of Forest of Dean parkrun and its mad as a box of frogs course that subtly changes as one season moves to the next. The advantage was short-lived, thanks to a fairly steep hill that allowed me to claim two scalps – one belonging to a younger runner with a 17:11 course PB to his name! I continued to pull away and dared not look backwards to see how big or small the gap became.

Out of nowhere came a disused railway line, partially covered in overgrown foliage (later discovered to be a nature reserve), requiring nimble feet to overcome. Uncertain of the route, I continued to follow the path before me and continued to see marshals every once in a while for confirmation I hadn’t gone off-course.

I rejoined the canal towpath and could see two runners in the distance making their return to the stadium. Once back on the track and looking ahead, I could only see two runners partway through the first lap of the track; I didn’t think anything of this and assumed there were others ahead that had already finished in circa-17 minutes. Completing my penultimate lap of the track, more and more runners began to steadily spill in, giving me targets to chase down and sidestep. With 200m remaining, I pushed out a kick that was inspired by Mo Farah from the previous night’s 10,000m World Championships, hitting 4:37 mile pace in the final metres.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

I finished in 19:32 officially, feeling in pretty good nick and I definitely could have gone harder if needed. To my surprise and reaffirming that I hadn’t lost the ability to count, I was given the third place token and debriefed with the fourth and fifth place guys. It was later revealed that a Bournville Harrier had gone wildly off-course at around 2km, adding over 600m extra to his run, allowing me to move up a place. If this sounds familiar, you’d be absolutely correct because the same thing happened a year ago at Arrow Valley parkrun to move me up to third place, too.

Nigel, Simon and I hung around to spectate and cheer fellow runners in over coffee (3 x coffees and 2 x flapjacks came to just £3.10!), all of us agreeing that there was a fantastic community vibe that’s unique to the smaller parkruns (just 176 finishers in this case). The varying terrain proved to be a hit with us – if you fancy an event with a totally unique feel, do give Dudley a visit.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

I wanted to get as much in as possible this week before going away to capitalise on some recovery time. There will still be some running, though mostly relegated to short, easy paced jogs outdoors to factor in the likely 30°C plus temperatures, and two treadmill VO2max sessions to avoid becoming too stale.

Minutes before the start of Dudley parkrun, both Simon and Nigel could tell I was chomping at the bit to get started. I replied with the only response that came to me: “I love running!” Yes, many of us are training for some race or another, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Do it because you want to and without regret.

This week’s running – 24th to 29th of July 2017

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Home away from home

Week 12 of the 22 week marathon schedule. After never having raced on a Saturday until recently, along came another Saturday race in quick succession!

5k recovery

In spite of running my furthest since my last marathon on the day prior, my legs did not feel shabby at all whilst out on this recovery run.

I even spotted Graham Lawrence of Cannon Hill parkrun fame to make for a novel change on the otherwise monotonous route.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles from work

A year ago, I took the day off from work to complete this run, such was my belief that it would not do me any favours covering it after a day at the office. No such opportunity this year, so I did whatever I could to prevent it being a disaster. This included eating a giant pizza the night before, along with a hearty lunch several hours before, topped off with the odd cookie throughout. I did not forget to pack my water bottle, either, so well prepared was I.

And do you know what? It was a success without any trauma!

To bulk up the distance, I covered two laps of the Soho Loop and three laps of the lake at The Vale before returning to my normal route to just tip me over into 14 miles. 37 miles in just three days was not bad going!

I have wondered why the P&D plan decides to build runners up to a mid-week medium-long run of such a distance and then returns to normal distances of 9 to 12 miles. Perhaps it’s a stepping stone to help better prepare runners to take on the 20+ mile runs yet to come?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Carrying more stuff home than usual, I was thankful the temperature was also a few notches lower than of late to at least make this run less taxing.

Effort was kept incredibly low to best ensure I arrived at the Magor 10k in reasonable shape to make the most of the flat and fast race.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5k recovery with strides

Running is an incredibly cheap hobby, if you want it to be. To run short distances, you only really need basic kit and it doesn’t even have to be running specific. As we develop, we begin amassing more kit; some necessary, and some less so. One such case in point is shoes – I have 7 pairs of running specific shoes on the go, and two pairs boxed and waiting to be rotated in when the outgoing pairs are beyond their useful lives. This recovery run played host to just that, where I broke out my new pair of Adidas Adios Boost 3s to replace a knackered pair of Adios Boost 2s.

A 5k recovery run with some strides thrown in was the perfect test to break-in the new pair of Adios Boost 3s. The outgoing pair of Adios Boost 2s were a nightmare from day 1, requiring excessive levels of break-in, by which time a third of the shoe’s lifespan had already been used up. The Adios Boost 3s are comfortable straight out of the box and flew when they were subjected to a few bursts of strides.

Specifically, these will be used as tempo shoes, so things like marathon pace runs, casual parkruns, speed work, and so on. Basically, they’re a workhorse shoe to take the stress away from my race-specific shoes, where they’re even more fragile due to being at the cutting edge of performance. There’s a psychological benefit to having shoes you only break out for big performances, and I wish to keep that trick in my arsenal.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Magor 10k 2017 review

For the full report, please click here.

10 miles – to Usk and back

With a Saturday race, Sunday presented the option of some top up mileage to round the week off and get it over 40 miles. That was the dream, but the reality was a bit trickier…

On the surface, the Magor 10k seemed to have taken a bit more out of me than originally thought because the first half of the 10 miles did not feel right at all. Even at a modest pace, the effort felt totally off and I was left sweating a lot more than anticipated. I bided my time and began chipping away progressively at each mile by a couple of seconds; giving my brain something achievable to focus on got me to halfway, where everything was right with the world again and I’d perked up.

Negative splits and running progressively. It’s the future!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Using the race as an analogy, I feel like I’m entering that stage where significant progress has been made, but now no-man’s land beckons; too far from the beginning where feeling fresh is now just a distant memory, and still too far from the finish to be able to properly assess what the likely outcome will be.

Reviewing last year’s blog entries reveals similar themes of ebbing and flowing; some weeks felt like a real struggle and other weeks carried great momentum. Without becoming too romantic about it all, the marathon and the training that comes before it are both great literal journeys; there’s no such thing as an easy marathon, and nor is the training supposed to be easy, otherwise the achievement would not be celebrated quite as much as it is, whether you’re a beginner, improver or elite-level.

Things will be just fine. Trust me. I work in marketing!

Magor 10k 2017 review

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Final 200m of the Magor 10k 2017 – photo by Lis Yu

My fourth outing at this flat and fast race.

Pre-race

Regrettably, this would be the first year where a PB was nowhere near happening. I’ve had several significant runs on the course, including my first ever sub-40 in 2014, so it was a real shame that I wasn’t in the right shape to capitalise on the opportunity. That’s not to say I’m unfit, just that training specificity now counts even more than ever before. What I was determined to do was to get a good threshold session out of the race, with anything in the region of 39:15 to 39:30 being satisfactory

I could not fathom why this race was moved from its traditional Sunday fixture to Saturday, but when I received the communication that the race HQ had also changed from Undy Athletic Football Club to a church, it all made sense. Some positive changes to come with the location move was the much wider start area for a cleaner dispersal and chip timing, though oddly only just for the finish; in essence, it was still a gun-timed race, but finish times were automatically logged.

Rocking up at the temporary race HQ in good time, there were already plenty of people about with some from as far flung as Chippenham; clearly the reputation of the flat course has spread. We also had Lis’ host family from her time in Spain in tow, showing them how we typically spend many weekends of the year.

Conditions above were overcast for some relief compared to a year ago, but my warm-up did confirm a 10mph headwind would hit during the first half of the course, so my game plan was to approach the opening 5k in just under 20 minutes, and then treat the remainder as a 5k race and take advantage of the hopeful tailwind.

Toeing up at the start, I did notice one chap wearing the new Nike Vaporfly 4% for the race; they already looked like they’d had some training wear on them, so I asked him for his thoughts. “Yeah, they’re really comfy,” was his not so helpful response, but at least we can all be safe in the knowledge we’d be comfortable wearing them in a race!

On the starter’s orders of “3-2-1-Go”, we were off.

The race

Keeping the race casual, I purposely positioned myself a few rows further back than normal to ensure I had plenty of people to deflect the gusts of wind blowing. Sure enough, I was tailing two guys that seemed reasonably reliable at pacing to allow me to make it to halfway feeling fresh. I’m normally conscious to never overstay my welcome when drafting, but I had no qualms on this occasion to simply sit in and let the mules do all the work. So reliable were they that 1km to 3km came out as the following: 4:01, 4:00, 3:57.

Gaps began to form as people tired around the group. I decided to stay put and remain calm in the knowledge that I could handle a faster second half with little issue once out of the wind. Whilst not warm enough to need water, I still took some on-board at the station to further slow the fourth km to 4:03.

Leaving Redwick village and the turning out of the wind, I took a sidestep out from behind my impromptu pacers and set my sails free to take advantage of the tailwind. Of course, tailwinds never return as much as headwinds take, so its effect was very subtle…

Working on my own, I gradually chipped away at the distance between me and the next group to begin reeling them in. 5km to 7km came out as follows: 3:54, 3:52, 3:53.

Nearing 8km and the switchback, I was finally within striking distance of the group I stalked and I planned to use the exit from the turnaround point to pounce. Sure enough, their momentum slowed and I was catapulted forward to gain two positions. Not being ungrateful, I gave some encouragement to one of the guys I’d used as a windbreak as we faced each other; the other chap was nowhere to be seen, so I figured he couldn’t have been far behind me. 8km expectedly slowed a touch to 3:56.

On the approach to 9km, I heard footsteps and heavy breathing coming up quickly behind. Pulling up alongside me was the other guy I’d used as a windbreak! He’d obviously had a similar strategy to me with negative splits, albeit more smoothly spread out throughout the second half of the race. 3:54 for the penultimate split.

Running for the finish, the two of us swallowed up a flagging club runner. Rounding the final corner, the two of them made a breakaway with me in chase. The newly located finish was leagues ahead of the 2016 equivalent that took runners down a narrow alleyway; now wide an unimpeding, I pushed out a minor kick on the new finishing straight to ensure to I made it back in under 39:30, not accounting for the additional 70m or so nearly everybody seemed to acquire en route (likely due to that switchback being too far out).

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

39:27 was my finish time to just make it back under target. That additional 70m cost me some 14 seconds, so I was thankful I wasn’t in PB shape, else I’d have been spitting feathers! runbritain has given the race just a 0.8 condition score, and looking at the results, many still PBd despite the additional distance.

I thanked the first of my two windbreaks and congratulated him on a nicely paced run, before moving my attention on to the other windbreak, who bagged a new 10k PB and his first sub-40 by with just a second to spare.

All in, not a bad morning’s work. Whether you go by my Garmin’s splits or the official splits, I achieved a negative split of around either 30 or 45 seconds between the first and second half, neither of which are to be sniffed at.