This week’s running – 16th to 22nd October 2017

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Welcoming some new faces to parkrun

Still not an awful lot of running going on, but there was some parkrun tourism!

5k easy

Guilt began to strike and the desire to get out and run started to return. With the night firmly drawn in, this also marked the first run of this season with my trusty Petzl head torch. After two years of pretty extensive usage in the darker months, I was pleasantly surprised to see the rechargeable battery was still in pretty damn good condition!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Southwick Country parkrun

Lis and I were away from home for our third out of four weekends, spending time with her school chums in the Somerset countryside. Of course, I took a peek at the parkrun website to work out where the nearest event would be; it so happened there was one just 10 minutes’ drive away. It would be just plain rude not to, right?

What was originally likely to be just me and Lis attending, grew arms and legs as word spread of the plan, with a whopping 6 out of 13 of us from the group toeing up on the start line. There was no pressure or sales pitch from me, so I was mightily impressed by everybody’s can do attitude; some admitted there may be walking involved, but the 5k distance would be covered, whatever it took.

Reaching the venue, I was surprised to learn it was on its 323rd event and was only a year or so younger than Cannon Hill. Doing a warm-up lap of the 2.5 lap course, the terrain reminded me of the unpaved portions of Edgbaston Reservoir. Billed as “hard trail”, I did consider if I was possibly wearing the wrong shoes and should have opted for my Nike Kiger trail shoes – the only reason I didn’t was because they’re the shoes I wore when I picked up my Achilles injury back in 2016, and have not touched them since…

I purposely plonked myself a few rows back from the start line, opting to observe on the first lap. The rest of the gang positioned themselves in the remaining third of the starting grid. I became quite conscious that I was the only non-Caucasian runner that morning of nearly 300 in attendance, but given the local demographic, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Nonetheless, I looked around me to better assess who the big dogs of the morning were likely to be. Reviewing the past several weeks’ results, I was fairly confident I would finish in the latter half of the top 10 with a circa-20 minute effort.

The controlled start did me a world of good, whilst everybody else charged off. In spite of being heavily jacked up on caffeine (explanation later in this post), I remained calm and went with the flow until the density of runners died down as people tired.

The course was deceptively tough. The ground underfoot was quite uneven, and the most efficient racing line wasn’t always the most efficient racing line! Mud and deep puddles collected in the tree-lined sections, reminding me of Newport parkrun at times. Finally, Storm Brian threw in some powerful gusts that kept things from getting boring.

Having completed the opening 0.5 lap, I was pleasantly surprised to see I was sitting quite steady at circa-sub-20 pace and feeling quite comfortable. Whereas I crossed the start line in likely 25th place, I’d probably worked my way up to 15th by this stage with relative ease. A female Hillingdon club runner began drifting back towards me from up front before steadying beside me. It was evident she was working hard from possibly too much enthusiasm earlier, so I gave her some encouragement to stay with me; on my advice, she took shelter behind me from the wind, but continued fading to disappear from sight as I approached the finish line for the second time.

I’d caught up to Lis, Rachel and Jess, who were just about to complete their first lap, giving them some encouragement to keep at it. There was no sign of Ben or Rhys, so I figured they were well on their way to finishing in under 30 minutes.

As observed of late, my lack of anything much faster than marathon pace locked off any higher gears I thought I had access to. Identifying who was on their first or second lap grew increasingly difficult, made more complex by having to provide advanced warning that I would be passing on the right; everybody was quite obliging and made no fuss of tucking themselves in to allow me to overtake.

Nearing the finish line, I passed Lis for the final time and she did her best to share info with how many runners were ahead of me. I didn’t catch the number, but I remained confident I could make it into the top 10. As one guy began his kick about 70m away, I gave chase to try and reel him in on the uneven ground. Unwittingly, I was able to keep my own pursuer at bay for just long enough with aid from the fast downhill final straight.

20:07 officially and indeed I’d snuck into the top 10 in 10th place! Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Before too long, Ben came through with a strong finish just outside of 27 minutes. Rhys was up next, defying his own expectations by running the entire distance. Lis, Rachel and Jess brought the rest of the group in for some upbeat performances.

Southwick Country parkrun pushed the cafe harder than any other event I’ve visited, and with good reason. The cafe provides the only toilets on site, but more importantly, is staffed mainly by employees with learning difficulties or other disabilities. Naturally, we stopped by for a coffee and some post-run discussion. I think the parkrun concept was a hit for the newcomers, with Ben identifying Newport’s Riverfront event as his closest, Rhys and Jess identifying Black Park as theirs, and Newport’s Tredegar Park as Rachel’s. Welcome to the family!

Brass Monkey Half Marathon registration

This week’s post is a bit backwards in terms of chronological order of events, but it’s easier for me to write and comment in this manner.

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon is a strong contender as one of my top 3 races. Flat and fast, its reputation is well known with many willing to make the jaunt to York in mid-January for a crack at a half marathon PB. Expectedly, places become harder to gain each year, too. Bagging three places in three consecutive years requires preparation and a willingness to get up at 05:40 on a Saturday… This is why I was so heavily caffeinated at Southwick Country parkrun!

Being away from home made things more challenging in that I was presented with a slow and unreliable internet connection. More critical to success was the change made to the online queue system. Previously, it was a simple first-come-first-served approach once registration opened at 6am. On this occasion, it morphed into a two-part system. The first stage required I join a pre-queue – a holding pen, if you will. Here, it mattered not whether I was the first or 1,000th person, because once registrations went live at 6am, we were then all allocated a random place in the true queue to then begin registering. It became a game of chance, where it was entirely possible for the last person to join the holding pen to be put in first place, and vice-versa.

I was dismayed to see I’d been given a place in the low 1,200s. Some quick mental arithmetic did my anxious mind no good, where I knew there would be individuals in the queue registering more than one person, meaning there was every possibility that I could miss out.

As I waited, the page auto-refreshed every 30 seconds; pleasingly, the queue moved along swiftly and before I knew it, I’d moved to a position in the 800s. Then, the page hung! I panicked, fearing that my place had been lost. A manual refresh saw me jump 200 places into the 600s, so I’d seemingly kept my place. The connection hung again, so I relocated to sit only a few metres from the WiFi base station for better connectivity. Movement in the queue slowed and an update was published, citing that over half of the available 1,700 places had gone within the first 20 minutes, with a warning that the system would begin to slow further as places became more limited. A final warning even went as far to state that it was entirely possible to be allowed on to the registration form, only for the final places to be snapped up whilst people entered their details!

I had to do a double-take when the registration form eventually presented itself to me. Never had my fingers ever typed so quickly before! Paid up and confirmation email received, I stayed put to observe how near to the end I was; another five minutes was all it took for all 1,700 places to sell out completely, prompting me to breathe a long sigh of relief.

Whilst I was fortunate enough on this occasion to bag a place, I’m not a fan at all of this new registration format, but I fear it will be here to stay in the interests of fairness.

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Confessions of a 50-year old marathon virgin

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Dave Burton at his debut marathon – photo by Lis Yu

We’re going to try something a little different here, so please forgive me if it doesn’t quite work out as intended!

A little background to ease us all in. My good friend of probably 10 years now, Dave Burton, decided to take on the challenge of his debut marathon, having it coincide with his 50th year, and also the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon.

I had hoped to introduce snippets of his training accounts to dovetail them in with my own progress over the summer, but for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Instead, we have an interview to shed some light on his experience as an older runner looking to debut in the 26.2 mile distance.

First things, first! How do you feel now that you’ve had a day or so for the dust to settle after the race?

Without giving away too much, too soon, let me say this: the walk to New Street Station from the finish was the hardest mile of the day!

So, why did you decide to run a marathon? Why now and not earlier?

I reached 50 this year and had to accept that competing against younger guys and chasing PBs was no longer realistic. The marathon represented a new challenge. Being 50 also made achieving the London Marathon Good For Age standard a more realistic goal.

Additionally, Birmingham had not hosted a marathon since 1985, so it felt great to be part of the first marathon the city had seen for quite a while. There’s something special about running your home events. You recognise more of the other runners participating, often including friends and colleagues.

Rightly or wrongly, there is so much attention on the marathon distance, and I felt it was about time I had a go at it myself.

Tell us a bit about your running background

I took up running in my early 20s as a way to combat the stress of actuarial exams. Youth, rather than talent, took me sub-38 for the 10k before a bad football injury stopped me from running.

Roll on 20 years. You and I were in the same pub quiz team, discussing your aim of a sub-2 hour finish for the then approaching Great Birmingham Run half marathon. That reignited my interest. We ran it together in 1:45 and a friendly rivalry over the years that followed pushed us both to sub-1:30 half marathons, sub-19 5ks, and so on. My Cardiff 10k ‘Millennium Best’ in 2014 ranks as my most satisfying race – it was the first sub-40 for over 20 years. You PB’d, too, and it was probably the last time I’ll ever beat you!

Time to talk about training! Did you follow a plan? How did you set your goal time?

I started out with reading Pfitzinger & Douglas’ Advanced Marathoning from cover to cover, documenting the key learnings to better understand why certain sessions are covered, and so on.

You kindly produced a 22 week plan for me. In essence and spirit, it was a lite version of the one you adopted and modified for your own Yorkshire Marathon. This was a godsend as it enabled me to just focus on the running. It took the thought out of which sessions to do each time.

For my age and gender group, a 3:20 or faster finish time is required for the London Marathon Good For Age standard. This felt reasonably conservative as my half marathon times suggested I should have been capable of 3:10 to 3:15.

And how was the training? What did you feel gave you the biggest training boost? Any particular challenges?

In truth, the training stretched me. Some of the sessions, particularly mid-week 10 to 14 mile ones, had me swearing with incredulity at the brutality! Marathon pace was also tough, initially.

Having you oversee my training introduced some discipline. I was genuinely afraid of being told off for straying from the schedule! I even found myself apologising to you for having a crack at the occasional Strava segment!

I enjoyed training over the summer. I guess you feel the cold more with age and the long, light evenings give you more flexibility around when and where to run. I began to particularly enjoy the relaxed Thursday evening 10 milers. That used to be my long Sunday run, and now it felt like a light jog in the park admiring the view.

Unfortunately, minor injuries compromised the schedule and we made the right decision to drop the target to a sub-3:30 finish instead. Plantar fasciitis struck around late July and made an increasing number of runs quite painful. I found I had to run more on soft surfaces, such as grass, which limited where I could run. 17 to 22 mile runs around Rowheath Playing Fields was very tough, mentally! I had to alternate between clockwise and anti-clockwise laps to provide some variety. Having a high boredom threshold helps!

You convinced me to eventually see a physiotherapist about my plantar fasciitis. I don’t even see GPs unless things are falling off! Most importantly, you nagged and encouraged exactly where it was needed.

Leading up to the big day, how did race preparation go?

You and I planned the build-up to, and the day itself, in meticulous detail. Nothing was left to chance! It was so important to not throw away all the hard work in the final week due to poor strategy and planning.

Carbo-loading was new to me and I put on about 2kg in the days beforehand, largely due to an additional increase in water retention.

We planned my pace of 7:45 to 7:50 per mile, anticipating a slight slow-down in the second half due to fatigue.

Most importantly, we planned my nutrition strategy. Due to a lack of energy drink stations on the course, and only Gu brand gels being handed out, we devised a plan where you were to hand over pairs of my preferred Isogels at miles 9, 18 and 24.

Tell us about your race day experience

With my wave starting at 08:30, it meant getting a taxi at 07:00 and having breakfast at 05:45!

I was lucky to arrive just before the queues for the loos started to really build up. I was paranoid about having possibly overdone the carbo-loading and didn’t want to share my debut marathon with the gingerbread man (Marathon Talk joke for those unfamiliar). The baggage drop entailed choosing a seat for your bag on your favourite number bus – I went for lucky number 7. I was all set but did wonder if I’d applied enough Vaseline when I bumped into Darryll Thomas, greasing himself down as if preparing for a Turkish wrestling bout.

After a sluggish start trying to find some rhythm on the rolling downs of the A34, I settled into a comfortable 7:50 pace.

I focussed on trying to be as fresh as possible for mile 20 and the distance simply flew by. It felt like I was running a completely different race from everybody else! I started more conservatively, and so was overtaking people at miles 4 and 5 who had overdone it on the undulations early on.

By halfway, the race was settling down and I started to run with four other guys, including a Fenland-Lincolnshire runner, who I’d chatted with much earlier. It felt like we were just about to start running as a group, but that got trashed as we merged with the blue wave. I lost all sense of who was in the same race and had to weave in and out of runners for much of the next 9 miles. I managed to follow the Fenland runner as he scythed his way through the crowds, but his increased pace proved too much and I dropped back.

Nonetheless, I felt great at 18 miles, which made it feel more like an 8 mile race. The inclines in miles 21 and 23 were tough and my quads started to cry for attention after the final incline. However, I managed to maintain pace reasonably well, and my final two mile splits were only slightly slower than average. I managed to catch and take the Fenland runner in the final mile!

I finished in 3:26:02, so well within my sub-3:30 target!

You know, that’s faster than either of my first two marathons!

I’m lucky you made so many mistakes for me to learn from!

Ha! You genuinely looked like you enjoyed it!

It was a great day! There was a good vibe from it being the first marathon in Birmingham since 1985. Starting on the track at Alexander Stadium also gave it a real sense of occasion.

Positively, the route got the boring sections with no spectators out of the way early on, paving the way for good local support in the residential areas. The support from you guys and other friends on the course was awesome. A big plus of doing your home marathon.

You touched upon a few negatives earlier. Were there any others?

I spoke of the merging of the waves not working.

There were no isotonic drinks on the course and the supplied Gu energy gels were scarce. The gel station appeared 3 miles earlier than planned and there simply weren’t enough volunteers handing them out, which was very poor organisation given how critical they were. Somebody queried this on the official race Facebook page, but the organisers have not responded.

Also, flat course, my arse! The first few miles went up and down the flyovers and underpasses. The inclines in Bournville and Selly Park were tough, too.

At mile 5 in Digbeth, I may have slightly twisted my ankle on a pothole. I was incredibly lucky this wasn’t a showstopper!

At mile 24, one of the safety pins holding my bib in place failed. I feared for my bib detaching completely and not registering a time!

Any post-race thoughts you can share with us? Anything you would do differently? How is recovery going and what’s next?

I felt I nailed it. I ran fairly conservatively, with it being a venture into the unknown of a first marathon, and I managed to maintain a pretty even pace all the way round that made for an enjoyable experience.

I’d like to try a flatter course to see what I can achieve. I believe I have a sub-3:20 within me, but I’m not sure whether I can remain injury-free.

Next time, I’d also look to train more with other runners. I enjoy running solo and getting lost in my thoughts, but that became very tough, mentally, later in the schedule when my body was creaking.

I don’t have any immediate running plans. After the regimented routine of 22 weeks, I’m looking forward to just running for the fun of it. It would be great to try another marathon next year, and I’m tempted by trail runs now that I’m not scared of the longer distances.

Being able to walk normally took about 2 to 3 days. The biggest challenge was being confronted by 5 flights of stairs on the Tuesday morning due to the office lifts being out of action. I’ve also felt my immune system waving a white flag in recent days.

And finally, any words of wisdom for would-be marathoners?

Yep, lots, but three things in particular. Firstly, treat the distance with respect, so read up as much as you can before starting training. Secondly, learn to run slowly! Building endurance requires lots of mileage and it’s counter-productive to push yourself hard trying to look good on Strava. Instead, aim to run the long runs 10 to 20% slower than marathon pace, and if it doesn’t feel too slow at first, then you’re probably doing it wrong. Finally, force yourself to have an easy week at least every 4th week to give your body time to recover.

Congratulations, Dave, and welcome to the marathon club!

This week’s running – 9th to 15th of October 2017

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Thankfully, I have a high pain threshold!

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a whole lot of running from me, but rather from everybody else instead with the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon in town!

Massage Monday

I opted to take Monday and Tuesday off from work to cover whatever eventuality I’d be faced with, post-race.

The keen eyed amongst you will notice there was no weekly post to accompany last week’s Yorkshire Marathon race write-up. There really wasn’t very much of note that happened during the week that wasn’t touched upon in the race review, bar going for a sports massage at the exceptional Guildhall Practice. They did absolute wonders for me, pre-race, unlocking my full range of motion and undoing any pent up tightness from weeks and weeks of repeated training abuse. With time available to me, I booked myself back in for a post-race session, albeit at a much lower intensity!

Simon Bell saw me once again, but was incredibly surprised to see how good shape my legs were in! Even post-marathon, he noted how much less tightness there was compared to a week prior. I shared that I’d run in Nike’s Vaporfly 4%, which perceptively took a lot of the impact out of the race from my legs, though did appear to put more strain on my quads, especially the one on my right side.

I won’t lie – there was yelping at times… But, I felt immediately better and the dreaded Tuesday legs never materialised! Of course, it is entirely possible that I suffered less post-race due to more training volume and specificity; the amount of damage I seem pick-up after each marathon has decreased to the point where I’m now only perhaps marginally suffering more than an eyeballs out half marathon.

Insomnia woes

Just what I didn’t need after poor sleep leading into the race was poor sleep after finishing the race…

There must have been so much adrenaline coursing through my veins, requiring several days to come back down from the temporary high. By Wednesday, I was really feeling it, but at least I began my return to work to kickstart getting back into a routine.

Cannon Hill parkrun

My first run in almost a week proved to be a rather strange experience in more ways than one.

Getting changed into running gear felt odd and out of routine, requiring much more thought than originally anticipated to make sure I had everything I needed. The pace the run was covered at (just shy of 8 minutes per mile/5 minutes per km) felt challenging on my body, not helped by the amped up temperature and humidity of the morning.

I will not rush my return to regular running; I probably dived back in too soon a year ago, following it up with a challenging half marathon plan that likely led to my injury downfall in late December.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The Birmingham International Marathon

Since 2014, I’ve firmly been a spectator and supporter at my hometown race, now with a marathon option to bring back the 26.2 mile distance to the streets of Birmingham, which hasn’t seen a marathon since the 80s.

Marathon fever struck and it was almost odd to encounter runners that were not looking to go long, so Lis, Simon and I had a rather lengthy list of people to keep an eye out for. Due to rather light nutrition provisions on the course from the organisers (Great Run), I also became a moving gel and energy drink station for two runners that I had particular vested interests in providing assistance to.

The first runner that I would be assisting was Dave Burton. I’d coached Dave to best prepare him for his first and possibly only marathon, and wanted him to be able to do the best he could without any regrets. His nutrition request? Bundles of 2x High5 Isogels, which were to be provided at approximately miles 9, 18 and 24.

The other runner I assisted was Darryll Thomas. Throughout the summer, we’d both been working towards our own respective sub-3 hour marathons, trading encouragement, training advice, and even participating in the odd race together. Missing my own sub-3 hour goal meant doing what I could help Darryll achieve it on race day. His nutrition request? Lucozade with small bags of jelly babies strapped to the bottles, and to be handed out at the same points as above.

Tactically, the points on the route I’d chosen were perfect. They afforded long straights leading up to us, so we could always see Dave and Darryll in the distance with no surprises. We were able to freely cross the road to change sides, and I was also able to run with both of them as I handed their gels/drinks over, allowing them both to not break stride, especially in the later stages. For the other runners we kept an eye out for, we were able to see some people up to four times, courtesy of the two-lap configuration that broadly covered the middle section of the marathon route.

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First fuel drop complete – photo by Lis Yu

First up was Darryll, nailing sub-3 pace.

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All handed over and nothing dropped! Photo by Lis Yu

Dave came through next, looking so relaxed and executing the plan he and I had devised to perfection.

Sadly, Darryll began fading at around 16 miles by his account, citing the brutality of the course for his demise (a sentiment shared by many I’ve spoken to since). Every cloud has its silver lining, and he did go on to achieve yet another London Marathon Good For Age qualifying finish, allowing Darryll to return to the capital sometime in the future.

Dave went on to have a blinding debut, also looking like he’d thoroughly enjoyed it, too. Very few people get the opportunity to experience both of those things, so my hat goes off to him. Keep an eye out for the interview with Dave as an imminent post.

Below is a gallery of the photos Lis and I took of the day. Whilst we did see many, many familiar faces, we simply couldn’t take photos of everybody due to the density of runners at times…

Yorkshire Marathon 2017 review

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Marathons never get easier. Goals just get loftier!

For the 2016 race, please click the following:

First things first, I promise this year’s write-up of my Yorkshire Marathon experience won’t be nearly as long as last year’s edition! Congratulations to all who ran and I hope this race account inspires those of you yet to run your autumn marathon.

The build-up

3:03:05 from the 2016 Yorkshire Marathon was incredibly satisfying to achieve, especially as my two previous attempts at the 26.2 distance left me feeling cheated. The London Marathon is the marathon for many, but not for me, so Yorkshire Marathon 2017 it was. Of course, being so close to a sub-3 hour marathon meant the next attempt had a very firm finish time in sight. I’ve repeatedly said of late that running more marathons doesn’t mean they get easier – the goals just get loftier!

So, what would it take to run under 3 hours? That’s 26.2 miles at 6:50 to 6:52 pace, give or take a little bit of error either side. I decided last year’s modified P&D Advanced Marathoning 22 week plan would serve me well again, with a few more modifications here and there; a very modest uplift in mileage and more opportunities to run at marathon pace, for example.

Training went incredibly well up until mid-August when Lis and I went away to Crete on holiday. I’d racked up some strong training runs and even broke 60 miles in one week for the first time. Returning from our break, I soon picked up a nasal infection that robbed me of two or so critical weeks in the plan. Once healthy again, it soon became apparent that I’d gone off the boil for too long (three weeks including the holiday and illness); my training paces slowed slightly and I lost some resilience, forcing me to begin dropping easy runs in favour of rest days.

All was not lost, however. I hit my long run goal of breaking 100 miles spread across five runs (103 miles in total) and marathon paced training runs at the Wolverhampton and Robin Hood Half Marathon indicated I was in good aerobic shape, but that I absolutely had to stick to the script of just sitting steady at 6:50 to 6:52 per mile in the main event because my body was unlikely to react well to anything faster.

Maranoia – it’s real!

Leading up to race day, I did what I could to stay healthy and illness-free. Judicious and frequent hand washing, backed up with liberal use of antibacterial gel, became the norm. So, imagine my horror when symptoms began manifesting less than 24 hours before the race!

Once more, Lis and I checked into York for a two-night stay in a bid to ensure I at least had a chance to acclimatise to the unfamiliar bed and surroundings. And yes, leaving nothing to chance, I did take my own pillow from home again.

Unfortunately, I slept dreadfully on Friday night and woke feeling groggy and dazed on Saturday morning. By mid-afternoon, I began to feel weak and flat and was ready to head back to the hotel for a nap. Post-nap, I felt no better and struggled to get food down over dinner with a constant feeling of wanting to throw up. I suffered from cold flashes, where everybody in the restaurant appeared to be fanning themselves to cool down, whereas I was struggling to stay warm!

In a complete reversal of roles, Dave Burton, who I’ve been coaching to run his own marathon, became my mentor. He suggested it was all in my head and was merely the fight versus flight mechanism kicking in. I was in unknown territory, recalling only ever feeling as such the day before Lis and I got married. Races don’t make me break out in a cold sweat, or so I thought! Reading through the Wikipedia article on the subject matter, I had almost all of the textbook symptoms; this did nothing to reassure me of the horror that unfolded and, ashamedly, for somebody that’s normally incredibly positive and upbeat about running and racing, I began re-evaluating my options and jacking the race in suddenly became a very real and inviting prospect. If the symptoms were not psychosomatic and I really was coming down with something (bad luck happens to everyone – just look at Therasa May), attempting to run 26.2 miles whilst ill would be a very bad idea and I could do without another DNF to my name.

Another early night it was in a bid to shake off whatever it was I was going through…

Pre-race

Unhelpfully and unsurprisingly, I had yet another poor night’s sleep due to what played on my mind. Adding to the anxiety was the comparison to the 36 hours before the 2016 Yorkshire Marathon, where everything went according to plan.

But! Many of the symptoms appeared to subside and only the queasy feeling in my stomach remained a concern. I managed to force some breakfast down whilst still contemplating my options. I agreed with Lis that we would rendezvous back at the hotel, whatever happened…

Suited and booted, I made my way over to the race village at the university. I began running through different mantras in my head, but the only ones that seemed appropriate to quell the feeling of nausea were “Keep cool” and “Stay calm”.

Firmly on university grounds, I spotted a runner wearing a sombrero hat, looking lost. I approached him to see if he was looking for the baggage tents, and indeed he was. I immediately began making small talk with David, querying whether he planned to wear the comically large hat for the entire race. He assured me the hat would be discarded shortly after starting the race and that it was more of a prop, where he and another friend would be guide runners for their blind comrade (the Three Amigos, get it?) Chatting with David did me a world of good, calming my nerves. Reaching the baggage tents, we wished each other luck before going our separate ways.

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Yep. I’m that guy from the race guide…

I was on the lookout for one Dave Johnson, whom I only ever tend to see in Yorkshire despite both of us living within a mile of each other. But, no joy on this occasion – he was nowhere to be seen. I did spot a Bournville Harrier and we both joked we were an incredibly long way from home, with neither of us feeling particularly well. Whilst getting my stuff prepared for storage, one chap asked if I was the guy featured in the race guide. Sheepishly, I acknowledged it was me and quickly interjected that I wasn’t feeling in race-form that morning. Incredibly, he too was also from the West Midlands, namely Walsall. Unsure of his ability, Ross did say he was capable of sub-3 pace at up to 11 miles in training and would attempt to keep me in sight for as long as possible. I wished him well and said I would keep an eye out for him on the course.

Bag checked in, one final toilet visit beckoned and I was pleased to see the organisers had once again provided urinals. It’s the little things that make or break races and the Yorkshire Marathon organisers are absolute pros at this – many other larger races could learn a thing or two from them!

In the start pen, I felt like I had a bull’s eye on my back and couldn’t shake the feeling that everybody was staring at me. I felt like a fraud from the interview I gave for the race pack guide. A few people did come over to say “hello” and to thank me for my write-up of the 2016 race, citing it as a useful reference. One such guy, Ian, stuck with me and we continued to chat. He, too, wore the Nike Vaporfly 4% in the same colour as me and also sported a Garmin 935. Behind me, I could see the sub-3 hour pacer a good 20 rows or so back and I wondered just how soon it would be before I was swallowed up by them and left for dust?

I continued to straddle the line between a daze and reality, paying no attention to the countdown. It was only when the hooter fired that I realised it was go-time!

The race

Miles 1 to 3

I was incredibly conscious I had not warmed up, opting to conserve as much energy as possible, and so had to use the first mile to ease myself in. Thankfully, the generous descent from the university to the main road helped to keep the effort relaxed and comfortable whilst cold starting.

“Keep cool,” I repeated to myself as people charged off. Before I knew it, mile 1 came and went in 6:57. Faster than the year prior by a few seconds, so perhaps all was not lost…

Approaching mile 2, the thunderous footsteps of the sub-3 hour pace group roared past. The group was huge, though they somehow managed to navigate around me without so much as a bump or nudge. I latched on to the coat tails of the pack, joined also by Ian, who I spoke with in the start pen. Mile 2 was clearly boosted by the sub-3 group to come in with 6:49! “Keep cool,” I continued to whisper to myself!

Passing York Minster, I completely missed it due to trying to concentrate on those around me during this narrow section. Noticeably, compared to a year ago, there were definitely more runners about, and not just because of my closer proximity to the sub-3 hour goal time. Once the road widened up, I was able to more freely run my own race line and positioned myself to catch Lis shortly after the 3 mile marker. Mile 3 continued to be swift for 6:48.

Miles 4 to 9

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Mile 3 of the Yorkshire Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

Spotting Lis, I soaked up her support until I was due to see her once again at mile 24.

Ian and I came back together and we both remarked how the sub-3 hour pacer was without a doubt going too fast, even factoring the slightly more undulating second half. We agreed that anybody that was on the cusp of running a sub-3 hour marathon would be pushed too hard at such a pace. Mile 4 returned to target pace of 6:51.

Bizarrely, I found miles 5 and 6 slipping from the pace for some unknown reason. Wind was low and both Ian and I commented how spectacular the morning was for racing. Even a high-five from the famous high-fiving vicar was not enough to lift the pace, resulting in 6:55 and 6:57 for miles 5 and 6 respectively.

Looking behind me, a decent sized pack of perhaps 7 or so of us had formed. I took on the role of tour guide, explaining how the course would pan out, where drink stations would appear, and so on. Ian and I remained chatty, helping the miles to fly by. He turned out to be an ultra runner with some impressive multi-day 100 mile events to his name. I commented that 26.2 miles would be a breeze for him, but he was absolutely right to correct me that any distance at race pace would feel difficult. As we conversed more, it quickly became apparent that he had a very similar outlook and mindset to myself when it came to running – it was almost like my personality had been transplanted into another body and I joked we were like brothers in arms! Another member of the group revealed that his only other marathon was dressed as a banana… I don’t want to come across as overly sentimental, but the group I found myself in was exactly what I needed that morning. The positive energy of the pack was practically tangible!

Miles 7, 8 and 9 came in at 6:53, 6:53 and 6:59 respectively. I regularly reassured the group that we were doing just fine, pace-wise, and that we had to remain calm and patient up to halfway.

Miles 10 to 13.1

Entering the heavily tree-lined section of the course, I reasoned that the pace was likely to rise and fall due to fluctuating levels of GPS signal. Also not helping with pace stability was the undulating terrain underfoot; I advised everyone that there was a high-speed downhill section on the approach and to just let the pace flow at that point, rather than applying the brakes.

By now, we had completely lost sight of the sub-3 hour pace group, with the field ahead and behind growing incredibly sparse. The group remained encouraging and positive, firmly in the knowledge that it was likely to be a lonely race if anybody fell from the pack.

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Me and the less aggressive sub-3 group

Miles 10, 11 and 12 came in at 6:52, 6:58 and 6:50 to still be on the cusp of sub-3 hour pace.

As we neared the halfway point, I reiterated the importance of staying calm and patient. We only needed to skim under 90 minutes to leave ourselves in the best possible shape for the second half. Passing the halfway clock, we registered 6:49 for the mile and 89:56 for a perfectly executed opening half. Nonchalantly, Ross revealed that he’d never gone under 90 minutes for a half marathon before!

Miles 14 to 17

Approaching the first of two switchbacks on the course, the crowd support swelled and was most welcome after a couple of quiet miles. I mentioned to Ian that this was now officially the longest run I had undertaken at such a pace to date; he shared my sentiments and we acknowledged the effort beginning to ratchet upwards.

Unfortunately, the pack we’d spent much of the first half of the race with imploded due to the change of pace from the switchback and the mild headwind we ran into. Only Ian and I remained and he suggested we take turns at blocking the wind for each other. This guy really was reading my mind the entire way!

Some of the fastest runners of the day appeared on the other side. As with last year, there were no African runners, so the winning time would be slower (2:24:13) than at many larger races.

Ian and I found ourselves connecting with another runner going at roughly the same pace. The wind increasingly picked up at this point, so the three of us opted to form a chain gang to take the edge off the gusts that blew. Mark revealed that he was running purely to heart rate, as instructed by his coach. I commended him on the sterling work, recognising that the effort skyrockets somewhere beyond 18 miles. Mark spotted the Autobot tattoo on my leg, to which I apologised for not being able to transform into a car. “If you could transform, it would only need to be a 2-seater. You’d be the car. One seat for me and one seat for [Ian]!” He shared that he was looking forward to seeing his wife and son somewhere out on the course; I concurred that I was greatly looking forward to some much needed support from Lis at mile 24.

The first of two gel stations appeared and I lucked out when they offered me a caffeinated Isogel – exactly what I was carrying on my person!

Physically and mentally, I was fully aware of needing to graft all the way to the end. For a stark contrast to only several hours earlier that morning, I felt alive for the first time all weekend and was committed to staying on target for as long as my body and mind would allow. I was reminded to stay cautious; on the other side of the road was one of the lead women, convulsing on the floor in the arms of a medic as they comforted her…

Miles 14, 15, 16 and 17 came in at 6:48, 6:53, 6:50 and 6:50 for a modest uptick in pace.

Miles 18 to 20

Approaching the second and final switchback of the route, Ian and I clocked the sub-3 hour group on the other side of the course; they were a good 1.5 to 2 minutes ahead of us and, incredibly, still appeared to be as large in numbers as before.

Rounding the turning point, I noticed Ian beginning to slip from the pace by a couple of steps. I slowed on the shallow descents to allow him to regroup with me, but it was never long again before he slipped backwards by a few strides. I pointed at the floor below my feet and urged him on to get back to me. At the same time, I had my other eye on Mark who was powering on in front. Ian urged me on as he drifted backwards…

Somehow, Mark found a boost from seemingly nowhere as he ploughed on ahead. I fixated on keeping the 5m or so between us static, at least until the left turn at mile 20. On the other side of the course approaching the second switchback were various members of my pack from the first half; I cheered them all on in deep appreciation of the company they gave me earlier that morning.

With Mark’s aid, we reeled in an increasing number of runners that had splintered off from the main sub-3 hour group ahead. The effort to hold pace became really quite noticeable and I began questioning how long I could possibly hang on for. Rubbing salt in was the direction of the wind, which had reverted back into a headwind, forcing me to increase my own pace to keep up with Mark and use him for drafting assistance.

Miles 18, 19 and 20 came in at 6:44, 6:48 and 6:58 to still average out as being on target.

Miles 21 to 22

Turning the corner beyond mile 20, Mark somehow slipped from the pace and began going backwards from me. Up ahead, it was very quiet with few other runners to latch on to and work with. A lone Harrogate runner was my closest target, so I worked up to him and sat steady. I began counting to 100; so tired was I from a lack of sleep that I even messed that up and skipped out whole sections of numbers!

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Teeth gritted. Time to dig in!

I’d reached the second and final energy gel station of the course and, quite conveniently, they’d marked out which flavours they were providing on either side of the road. I opted for a banana gel with the knowledge that the flavour change would help perk me up after slurping down nothing but orange and berry flavoured gels all morning. With the sun also making a guest appearance, I grabbed two bottles of water – one for drinking and the other to throw over myself; the shock of the cold water did wonders to wake me up and took my mind off my ever tightening body and limbs.

In the distance on the left, I could see a flag flying in the air. Getting closer, I realised it was the sub-3 hour pacer’s flag and he was walking! I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. As I neared, I asked if he was OK; he looked defeated and simply replied with, “Yeah. I’m fine.” He looked quite different to the published photo of the 3-hour pacer from several weeks ago and I immediately wondered whether it was the same guy at all, or whether the organisers had to find a backup pacer for whatever reason?

Runners from the 10 mile race began to come into view. Looking for any brief bit of distraction, I began encouraging them, many of which were walking by this point.

Miles 21 and 22 came in at 6:51 and 6:55, respectively, so still on target, but only just.

Miles 23 to 25

Reaching mile 23, I could see my pace was drifting in the wrong direction and for the first time during the race, my Garmin displayed a pace starting with a 7… The average pace ticked over from 6:52 to 6:53 and I knew it was now make or break; did I have the courage, strength and desire to invite the pain and fatigue in and get back on to 6:52 pace? I tried treating the section as a fartlek run with mini injections of pace for a few seconds to try and reverse the damage. The problem, at such a late stage in the race, was that everybody around me had slowed and that messed with my brain’s perception of speed. What felt like a casual jog earlier when everybody else was running at the same pace as me now felt more like a sprint!

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Mile 24? More like mile 24.9! Photo by Lis Yu

As I neared mile 24, I began to look forward to the sight of Lis out supporting. I needed a friendly and familiar face after having lost all of the comrades I’d started the race with at numerous points earlier. The mile 24 marker came and went, but no sign of Lis. Puzzled, I wondered what had happened. We’d spoken about a nearby pub beforehand, which would have made for a good base of operation with toilet facilities and what not. Perhaps she was in the toilet and I’d missed her? A big part of me died when I realised that may have happened, especially after waiting for so long to see her again. Well, readers – fear not! It turned out to be some confusion; Lis was unsure if she was actually at the right pub or not, so relocated further up back on to the route (24.9 miles…) to be certain!

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In my own personal hell of my own making – photo by Lis Yu

Any semblance of a poker face to mask the torture I was going through was long gone. My IT bands and hips were tight, restricting the stride range I had access to. My shoulders and neck were also knotted, and my arms were doing the tyrannosaurus-rex claw thing once more… Not a strong look at all! Running in a straight line became increasingly difficult and I drifted from left to right on occasion; so long as I continued to move forward at the same time, my form mattered not!

On the approach to mile 25, the crowd support began to swell once again. More and more runners also began drifting back into contact with me, giving me interim targets to work towards and jump from one to the other. As I’d remarked on earlier, there were definitely more runners out in the field, especially so close to the 3 hour time, whereas a year ago, I was largely running alone and in between groups going for a London Marathon Good For Age time of 3:05 or sub-3 hours. Unexpectedly, the Harrogate runner found second wind and pulled up alongside me to then move ahead! This was exactly what I needed and I followed him in pursuit.

Miles 23, 24 and 25 came in at 7:07, 7:01 and 7:09. The sub-3 game was up and I knew I couldn’t bust out a 6:20 mile at the end of a marathon. My goal immediately switched to finishing as close to 3:00 as possible. At least I could then say I’m a 3 hour marathoner…

The final mile and a bit

I’ve frequently said before that unless you’ve absolutely rinsed yourself out on the course, the final mile kind of looks after itself.

In the distance, I could see the petrol station that signalled the left turn back towards the university. And that hill. I knew it was going to sting this year, much more so than 2016, due to the more aggressive overall race pace on this occasion. Over 50 feet of elevation spread across 400m at the end of a marathon… To my left was a bloke who just suddenly stopped running and began to walk. Out of nowhere, his two teenaged sons came to his rescue and began spurring him on. “Don’t stop now, Dad! You’re so close! Come on, we’ll run with you up the hill!” Brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it?

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Once at the brow of the hill, I knew I had a descent all the way to the finish, so I picked up my stride. I could hear the compere announcing names of finishers coming through, but there was no mention of time or the sought after 3 hour cut-off point on the clock. I knew I was outside of target, anyway, and simply sprinted for the line in a bid to finish as strongly as possible. I received a mention over the PA system, prompting me to raise my arms in victory, firm in the knowledge that I still had a generous PB to my name.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I immediately dropped down to lie on my side, inspired by another chap lying on his back. A marshal rushed over to check I was OK, to which I told him I just needed a breather. Once recovered, I checked my Garmin out and I had finished in 3:00:34. Not the sub-3 hour goal I originally set out for, but it was still a 2 minute and 31 second PB over last year. And yes, I can now legitimately call myself a 3 hour marathoner!

I waited in the funnel to cheer in the various faces that I’d come into contact with over the duration of the race. First back in was Mark, who had dragged me on through the 18 to 20 mile section. Next up was Ross, followed shortly by Eric, both from the pack I belonged to for much of the first half. Finally, there was Ian, my brother from another mother for the day (for his account of the race, check out his blog here). Whilst we’d all PBd (and half marathon PBs for some!) by decent margins, I did have to break it to them that I’d missed sub-3 by just 35 seconds…

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Ross, me and Ian – marathon PBs for all!

A stroll back to the baggage tent with an alcohol-free beer to celebrate the achievement is not a bad way to end a race at all!

Thoughts and conclusions

So, the sub-3 hour marathon remains elusive. But really, I’m not disappointed at all because I did everything within my power to finish in the time that I did. Sure, if training had gone more to plan, or if I hadn’t lost two to three weeks from illness or my holiday, I may have made it, and maybe I wouldn’t have. Equally, if I had a perfect night’s rest before the race with no feelings of nausea or anxiety, I may have been fresher to squeeze out another 1%. With all that had happened in the 24 hours prior, I’m absolutely delighted with my finish time!

Stats-wise, things look interesting (2017 versus 2016):

  • Total campaign mileage: 894.94 miles vs 843.52 miles
  • Average weekly mileage: 42.12 miles vs 42.14 miles
  • Positive split difference: 38 seconds vs 35 seconds

Total campaign mileage-wise, the ambition was to modestly increase overall volume. I also hoped to increase my average weekly volume; my largest weeks had grown even more compared to a year ago, but conversely, my lightest weeks also became lighter, where I found I was in need of rest instead of recovery. This resulted in the incredibly similar average weekly mileage results above. Finally, I originally assumed I had a larger positive split in 2016, but that’s not so. I’m coming around to thinking that I’m unlikely to run a negative split and that another sub-3 hour attempt will require banking perhaps 30 to 45 seconds in the first half, anticipating such a slowdown in the second half due to fatigue.

Will there be another roll of the dice for the sub-3 hour goal? Not for 2018. My mind is frazzled from the past few weeks of marathon training and I need to recalibrate and get back to baseline. I want to regain some of my speed and revisit shorter distances like 5k, 10k and half marathons, running them in anger once again. Taking the rather crude marathon prediction calculation of doubling your half marathon best, and adding 10 minutes, only gives me an 11 second margin of error; getting my half marathon PB below 84 or even 83 minutes will be time well spent for any future outing at the 26.2 mile distance.

Very few successful marathon outings happen because of one sole runner alone. There’s often an invisible team behind the performance, all playing their part to get the most out of an individual. You all know who you are, even if you don’t think you’ve helped all that much, to which I’m incredibly grateful.

With that, we’re at the end of another marathon campaign. Many of you will be embarking on autumn marathons of your own very soon, which I wish you the best of luck with.

This week’s running – 25th of September to 1st of October 2017

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Running and sight-seeing? At the same time? Madness!

Week 21 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Some running in that there London town and we’re almost there…

5k easy

Due to the increased warmth of the Robin Hood Half Marathon, my Garmin suggested a lengthier recovery window than a year ago. Heeding its advice, I delayed Tuesday’s run with a sprinkling of marathon pace and rotated in an easy 5k.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

7 miles with 2 at marathon pace

Faster workouts are fraught with danger as one gets closer to race day, so I purposely softened the marathon paced miles by slotting an 800m recovery between them. I wasn’t going to get any fitter and simply needed to not lose touch with how marathon pace should feel.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Traditionally, I’ve always set out to run hard at the final parkrun the week before a big race. Along with the VO2max benefits, blowing off some cobwebs from tapering is rarely a bad thing. Little did I know how badly my 5k pace had deteriorated!

Kings Heath Running Club took over the volunteer duties for the morning and kindly provided pacers, including a 19 minute one. Whilst I was initially able to keep up, the pacer drifted away after 2km and my lack of 5k intensity reared its ugly head. My breathing was still perfectly adequate, but I simply could not coerce more from myself to shift into higher gears, eventually finishing in 19:20 without too much discomfort.

Whilst I would have liked one last fast parkrun ahead of race day, I’m totally on-board that my training has seen me trade in speed for (hopefully) out and out endurance…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Oh, and don’t forget the parking charges for Cannon Hill Park kick-in from the 6th of October onwards. £2 for the first four hours or £3 for the entire day.

14 mile London runaround

Lis and I found ourselves in London, making for a fantastic scenery change from the norm to keep me company on my final long-ish run. Despite London being somewhere I’ve visited many times over the years, this was actually only my fourth run in the capital, with two of the prior occasions being the London Marathon!

Starting and ending on Brick Lane, the route I plotted could be considered quite lazy, straddling both sides of the Thames for much of the duration. Run firmly at an easy pace for the first half and then working up to a typical long run pace for the second half, the entire duration was very much a stop-start affair for any photo opportunities that presented themselves (and there were many).

I adore running in cities when it’s quiet because you see a totally different side from what most other people would. Little details became more apparent and I often felt like I’d stumbled upon a well-kept secret.

It was also positive to see so many different types of people out running on a Sunday morning. All genders, sizes, ages, colours and creeds were covered; as a sport, running is incredibly inclusive because it requires so little to get started, and I felt like London had cracked it.

Oh, and for those wondering, the infamous Yu lack of direction sense did strike occasionally (especially around Monument), though I was able to course correct and only added an extra mile on!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

A lengthy marathon training plan can be a double-edged sword. One particular benefit is it affords plenty of time for adaptations to take place with no particular rush, resulting in reduced injury risk. My Garmin 935 now frequently suggests to me that I’m peaking and little more can or should be done. One particular pitfall of such a long schedule is it takes its toll, mentally… I’ll be in serious need of a few weeks off afterwards!

I’m ready to give the race my best shot. Why? Because I’ve made it into the Yorkshire Marathon race pack…

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This week’s running – 18th to 24th of September 2017

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Week 20 of the 22 week marathon schedule. And now I taper!

No taper blues this year!

12 months ago, I found myself feeling incredibly agitated as I began tapering, but not so this time. My body has been craving the chance for some recovery to shift fatigue, so I opted to play this particular week quite casual. Volume was knocked right down to circa-50% of a busy week and intensity was used sparingly, ignoring the half marathon on Sunday.

Crucially, the fatigue is shifting. I need to be careful not to use up too much new-found free time just because it’s available…

3 x 800m at 5k to 10k-ish pace

Sticking firmly to the cause of not overdoing it, I knocked this session down from the original 5 x reps to just 3 x. The wind was howling and due to the short nature of the intervals on the canal towpath, finding a stable and reproducible pace was difficult, hence ending up somewhere between 5k and 10k pace:

  1. 3:05
  2. 2:55
  3. 3:03

I got the desired effect of some faster running, helping with efficiency and to keep me from getting too sluggish as I recover.

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

5k easy

I said this week was low volume!

In truth, this run was more of necessity than of yearning – I could have very easily skipped out! I knew I needed to keep my legs turning over, so an easy trot it was.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With the Robin Hood Half Marathon the following day and needing to be somewhere sharpish after parkrun, Lis and I opted to volunteer as marshals for the morning. We were paired with the lovely Ginette, who absolutely adored the concept of parkrun.

Robin Hood Half Marathon 2017 review

For the full write-up of how this marathon dress rehearsal went, please click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

By the time you read this, I’ll be able to legitimately say race day is just next week… I’m filled with mixed parts excitement and dread; excitement in that I’ll be able to put the 22 weeks of training to the test, and dread because I know whatever result comes out of the other side, it’s going to hurt…

Speaking with Dave Burton recently, he made an interesting observation where, in reality, the goal is not the training, but rather the race itself. Arguably, being consistent and surviving such a long training schedule (over 5 months!) is a major achievement and is not to be overlooked. So many things can go wrong on race day – just look at the elites – and luck plays a bigger part than you would believe across 26.2 miles.

The training is now done and many of us will be setting foot on the biggest running challenge of our lives in a few short weeks, whether it be our first marathon, or a moon-shot time goal. Let’s not forget to congratulate ourselves on what we’ve accomplished so far!

Robin Hood Half Marathon 2017 review

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Marathon pace dress rehearsal at the Robin Hood Half Marathon 2017

For the 2016 race, please click the following:

Darryll Thomas and I took advantage of our golden ticket prizes from last year to once again run this race for free! Read on to find out what happened in Nottingham.

Pre-race

Covering this race at marathon pace in 2016 did wonders for my confidence before going into the Yorkshire Marathon only a fortnight later, so I looked to repeat this strategy in as similar a fashion as possible. This was very much a marathon dress-rehearsal, using all of the clothing and kit that I plan to utilise in the main event. Including the Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes (more on this later).

Arriving in Nottingham, it was immediately apparent that the race organisers had managed to boost numbers. Compared to a year ago, there were now significantly more cars on the road and dramatically more runners in the race village with over an hour before the start time. Everything felt chaotic, especially with the well organised and recent Wolverhampton Half Marathon still in memory.

Due to logistics, Darryll and I got separate warm-ups in. My legs felt incredibly disconnected from a very light week of running; co-ordination was severely lacking, though thankfully began to return as I neared the end of a 1.5 mile jog, with 200m of strides helping significantly.

With more than 20 minutes remaining until the gun, I wondered over to the start pens only to find serenity incredibly lacking. Spectators got in the way of runners trying to make their way into start pens, not helped by the narrow path. A mother with a pushchair repeatedly rammed into the back of my ankles! The organisers really need to cordon off the zone immediately adjacent to the start pens from non-runners, at least until the race has started.

Once in the start pen, I learned my lesson from a year ago and ensured I was positioned far enough ahead of the sub-90 pace group for an unimpeded start and opening 5km. I even spotted Richard Whitehead mingling with the crowd, but no sign of Darryll Thomas. The pen was filling fast and given we’re both short, it made spotting each other difficult. I fretted not as we’d both eventually connect on the course from covering sub-3 hour marathon pace.

Further adding to the mayhem of the morning, there was no countdown or warning before starting – simply, “Go”!

The race

Miles 1 to 3

As anticipated, everybody charged off, including me! The Vaporfly 4% shoes felt sooo good on my feet, I actively had to drop the anchors when I saw I was creeping into 6:20 mile pace territory… I had a decent lead ahead of the sub-90 pace group, which I wanted to maintain all the way to the climb to and from Nottingham Castle; everybody slowed significantly at that point a year ago to make for a massive pinch point so early on in the race.

Storming past me was a chap wearing red cotton jogging bottoms and a thick cotton t-shirt, puffing like a steam train. He continued to pull away and whilst I thought he couldn’t possibly last, I don’t actually recall ever seeing him again for the rest of the race.

Mile 1 came in a touch faster than target at 6:44, but I learned from last year that the Robin Hood course is quite tricky to pace evenly and wasn’t something to get worked up about.

Approaching the castle whilst also climbing, I purposely ran wide of the race line so as not to get caught up in the shenanigans of people slowing. Mile 2 came in a touch slower at 6:54 to factor in the ascent.

Many people will have blown their races during mile 3, almost exclusively made up of climb with several twists and turns to really disrupt pace. Most of the race’s 522 feet of elevation occurs in the first 5k, so it really isn’t a PB chaser’s course. Mile 3 came in for 7:07, which wasn’t too bad considering.

Miles 4 to 6

A very steep descent was most welcome in mile 4. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from everyone! Once again like last year, water was served in clear plastic pouches. Whilst I found them quite novel previously on a cool day, I was less enthused at having to use them whilst the sun was beating down on me. Chewing a bigger hole through the packaging ended up wasting half the water, though allowed for more water to flow out, providing much needed immediate relief overhead.

I’d been consciously looking behind me a number of times to try and catch a glimpse of Darryll, but to no avail. With the knowledge that he’s much better at running downhill than me, I estimated he would likely make contact with me before too long; my gut was correct and he made himself known just as the route flattened out again. It turned out Darryll had become caught up in the sub-90 pace group, though shared how good a job the pacer was doing of communicating the plan and strategy to his runners, unlike last year’s pacer who went off like a bull in a china shop to try and outrun the damage from the early climbs. Mile 4 and its near-freefall resulted in 6:28 to recover some damage.

It boded well that we were able to keep up with marathon pace whilst casually chatting away and with the sun above us. Time was flying by and due to our shoulder-to-shoulder formation, quite a few runners dipped in and out of the slipstream we provided. Mile 5 (correcting for the incorrectly placed marker) clocked in right on target of 6:50.

A long, false-flat in mile 6 was the last of the big climbs for the rest of the course, leaving only minor undulations here and there to contend with. Mile 6, thankfully, occurred on a tree-lined street, affording some welcome shade. 6:58 popped out, becoming our second slowest mile of the race.

Miles 7 to 9

A short but sharp climb up to Wollaton Park paved the way for a nice, gentle descent for the remainder of the mile, again under tree cover. Awkwardly, the set of large gates in the middle of the park were once again locked and required runners divert on to grass temporarily to go around! That being said, I recall mile 7 feeling so easy and effortless, with a split of 6:41 confirming as much.

Mile 8 was completely unmemorable, but must have been quite easy to produce 6:43 on the clock.

Reaching the mile 9 switchback, we both recalled the moment we caught glimpses of each other from a year prior, almost like déjà vu. Speakers blaring out Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” pushed us on to our fastest split of 6:40, before slamming on the brakes to regain control…

Miles 10 to 12

With how warm the morning had become, we counted our lucky stars that an impromptu water station had been created, using the remnants of the mile 3-4 water station. Two volunteers handed out what was left of the water pouches, but due to some bad timing, Darryll and I passed just as they’d run out and reached into the box to replenish stocks… Neither of us were willing to stop mid-stride to grab one and I caught sight of the lady’s horrified face as she realised what had happened. It was going to be a very hot and sweaty final 5k, indeed!

Sometime shortly after last year’s race, both Darryll and I were contacted for our feedback concerning the course. We shared our dislike of the two switchbacks occurring in miles 9 and 10 in quick succession, along with our utter dislike of introducing so much climbing in just the first 5k of the race. Well, the organisers sort of listened to us and sort of didn’t. The switchback in mile 9 and the early climbing obviously remained, but they did re-route mile 10 to eradicate the second switchback. Unfortunately, the adage of, “give with one hand, take away with the other” held true, for the replacement featured several jarring undulations instead… Comparing the two splits side by side, the 2016 switchback version was a good 12 seconds faster (6:40) compared to the 2017 non-switchback version (6:52). Be careful what you wish for, folks!

Mile 11 was unmemorable and sat steady at 6:48.

We found ourselves in a small group that had remained consistent for the last couple of miles. Nearing mile 12, I told people to push on as it was almost completely flat from that point to the finish. It turned out all of us were either treating the half marathon as a marathon pace training run, or were in the marathon and wanted to sit steady – a nice bit of camaraderie to wrap up the race. Mile 12 clocked in with 6:46.

Mile 13 and a bit

Returning to base, we continued to sit steady, though I could sense Darryll was beginning to falter by falling behind by just a few steps. Turning right for the start pen area, I slowed a touch to allow him to reconnect with the group, but he opted to hang back, citing an overwhelming sensation to throw up as what was slowing him down. I continued on with Jason, one of the guys from the group covering the race at pace ahead of the Chester Marathon.

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Who wears short shorts? I wear short shorts! Photo by Lis Yu

We saw Lis on photo duty. I think I look even happier than a year ago!

I’d somehow forgotten that the final 200m or so took place on grass, so I was thankful a sprint was not needed, especially in the tall off the ground Vaporfly 4% shoes…

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I knew I would be close to last year’s finish time. Turns out I was officially just one second faster with 89:21!

Jason and I shook hands as I waited for Darryll to come back in. We collected our goodie bag spoils and loitered with intent, hoping that we would get lucky again with this year’s golden ticket promotion for free entry into next year’s race, but no joy.

Recovery-wise, my Garmin quoted 67 hours, whilst Strava concluded with a 300 point suffer score – last year, under much cooler conditions and with nobody to gas to, only came to 189 points!

I’m incredibly pleased with how comfortable and casual marathon pace felt, giving me more confidence that having a crack at a sub-3 hour marathon in Yorkshire won’t be a fool’s errand. With a thorough taper and carbohydrate loaded, I’m optimistic that it can happen, albeit with the finest of margins.