This week’s running – 21st May to 3rd June 2018

andy_yu_newport_parkrun_2018

Newport parkrun takes place on a National Trust site – photo by Lis Yu

Gah. Apologies once again, everyone, for I have fallen behind with the updates. Two weeks rolled into one, here.

5x 800m at 5k pace

I struggle with the specifics, but it’d been a long time since I last completed a true-blue interval session at anything faster than half marathon pace. Needless to say, I was pensive about how the session would unfold…

Well, I need not have worried at all for I positively surprised myself! Take a look at the below for each 800m rep:

  1. 2:55
  2. 2:59
  3. 2:53
  4. 2:55
  5. 2:54

Rep 2 was marred by heavy tree cover, ruining what was otherwise a near-flawless set! I could have pushed on for 6x, but felt quite nauseous upon finishing 5x and figured that was quite enough to get myself reacquainted with structured speed once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

5 mile run-commute

Expecting the week’s total mileage would end up a touch on the low side due to soft-tapering and racing, I opted to jump off the Metro one stop early to have this run end up nearer to 6 miles than 5.

Running with a bag on your back is tough going. You end up with what some affectionately call swamp back, due to never-ending perspiration in a bid to keep the back cool. Not only that but whatever goes into the bag needs to be wrapped in plastic… I’ll say no more!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

Like a fool, I forgot to pack my Flip Belt to have me running all 11 miles with a phone and wallet in my hand. Any of you that know me in person will be aware of my diminutive figure, yet I own the ginormous iPhone 8 Plus. Not comfortable in the slightest!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Racing the following day meant I volunteered, of course. I was paired up with the lovely Fehmida, volunteering and marshalling for the very first time, due to fasting for Ramadan. She was an absolute natural, learning the ropes very quickly, pointing runners in the correct direction, and encouraging everybody as they passed.

Also joining us was a chap from Bristol, who was returning there due to work contracts ending. Rather than run at Cannon Hill for the final time, he opted to volunteer instead. Many, myself included, would have done the former, whereas he’d set a great example by going against expectations.

Cotswold Hilly 100 2018 review

For the full write-up, please click here.

5k recovery

Strangely, the previous day’s Cotswold Hilly 100 leg barely felt like it had touched the sides. Considering my Garmin advised 72 hours for recovery, I heeded this warning and kept the effort incredibly low. Helpful to me were the torrential rains of the previous day in Birmingham, bringing the temperature down a few notches.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

This was a very special day for the St James Road tunnel re-opened! Huzzah!

Those of you local to Birmingham and who run on the canals will be all too familiar with the narrow, single-file nature of above said tunnel. I remember years ago, a cyclist decided to race ahead of me into the tunnel, only for him to constantly lose his balance to then drop his speed to become the one holding me up!

Since January, work has been carried out on widening the footpath in the tunnel. Whereas canal boats have probably lost around a metre of width from the tunnel, which still leaves plenty for them to play with, users of the footpath are now able to comfortably and safely overtake with ease; no more waiting at either end!

The only downside? The extension is basically a platform, and not a particularly solid sounding one. Only time will tell if it survives the repeated pounding and punishment…

The run itself was so-so. Humidity was jacked right up to leave me drenched and dripping in sweat. The crushing problem with humidity is it stops the body from being able to cool itself down. Without the sun shining directly on you or a breeze to evaporate sweat, it simply pools on your skin and your body pumps out more sweat because you’re not cooling down. It’s a double cost as you become increasingly dehydrated with no benefit!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

The humidity remained and certainly not helping was the bag on my back.

Running through Cannon Hill Park, there were still a few telltale signs of the storms from Sunday. Lots of mud had formed or collected besides the many paths.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

3x 800m

Eugh. This was supposed to be 6x 800m at 5k pace, but I could tell from the warm-up alone that things were going to get ugly. 4 easy paced miles had left me glistening in sweat that simply wasn’t evaporating away!

I knew after 3x reps that I was better off jumping out and not delay recovery for another attempt another day:

  1. 3:06
  2. 2:58
  3. 3:03

Whilst the humidity was one factor in the poor session performance, recovering from the Cotswold Hilly 100 and poor hydration and nutrition were others. I opted to catch a bus for the final 2 miles for home, stopping off at Sainsbury’s for some sugary snacks and drinks!

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

Newport parkrun

Ah, Newport parkrun. Home to my very first parkrun away from Cannon Hill and also where my Achilles heel had decided enough was enough back in 2016 (I’d not been back since).

Ben, a friend of Lis’ and mine ran there for the first time a week prior and fancied giving it another shot whilst I was in town. It makes for quite a contrast to his usual haunt of Riverfront parkrun and is one of the likely few events where the launch of nearby events have taken numbers away from Newport parkrun; at its peak, the event could see up to the high 500s, whereas the 200s to 300s is now the norm. Their secret? Newport parkrun is definitely more of a summer course.

After a warm-up, Ben and I both concluded it was going to be a warm morning. Not helping was the lush vegetation we would run through twice for added humidity. Spectating were Lis and my mother-in-law, Yvonne.

Visiting the event was a swift looking runner from Oklahoma in the US. I did actually have sights on him winning, only for disappointment to strike when he finished in second place and lost out to a fellow visiting runner.

I was in need of sleep and recovery, so set out with just sights on skimming under 20 minutes. With its many twists, turns and long stretches under thick tree cover, I knew the course came up a touch short on GPS, so I had a small margin of error on my side. I coasted much of the first km, keeping the effort and pace steady whilst people chopped and changed before settling down.

Somewhere during the second km, I noticed a young boy in the distance running at a decent clip for the Tredegar Park terrain. With no extra work on my part, we eventually drew shoulder-to-shoulder; his breathing was already quite heavy and laboured, so he was certainly working hard. He began to slip by a step or two, convincing me to give him some encouragement and pacing assistance. “Stay with me, buddy,” I said to him to get a feel for whether he was interested in keeping the fire burning. He drew level with me again to clearly wish to remain in the game.

This continued up to the final km, when I thought I might have lost him. His breathing was, expectedly, very laboured and intense; the suffering he was putting himself through was remarkable. I carried on with the encouragement, which he’d previously reacted positively to. As we cleared the final corner, I took the lead momentarily and told him to kick and chase me down. He found something from somewhere and briefly pulled level with me before putting a few metres between us. At the 200m sign, I told him to go for the finish and he added a few more metres between us, finishing in 19:52 and me in 19:54.

Upon finishing, I congratulated him and told his father that he should be proud of the effort he’d put on show that morning. A sub-20 is not particularly easy to achieve on Newport’s course as the terrain, whilst being largely flat, is not particularly forgiving in terms of energy return or traction.

Ben came back in with a course PB, which was to be expected with prior knowledge of the course and starting right at the front with me.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Monkswood and back

The day before, Lis and I noticed several volunteers putting up a number of “Caution Runners” and arrow signs around much of the long run route I almost always utilise when visiting Lis’ parents. Curious and confused, I could find no information on what the potential race was, with no listings on any of the race resources I commonly refer to. Ben was able to deduce it was some sort of relay race akin to the Cotswold Hilly 100. Hosted by the local Fairwater Runners club, it featured multiple legs of differing distances, with the most brutal being a half marathon taking place at 13:20 in the midday warmth. I feared I would have to bandit the race if it coincided with my own long run, though there was no need as I was all wrapped-up before they’d even started their leg.

Whereas I’d spotted dozens upon dozens of cyclists, I was the only runner out there on this morning. One particular cyclist recognised me on the out and return to cheer me on. Also cheering me on was a mystery BMW driver, honking his horn and waving as I headed towards my turnaround point at Monkswood.

I ensured I was adequately hydrated and fed beforehand, but took no chances by carrying an additional water bottle with electrolytes. Usefully, I also strictly regulated the first half’s effort to have me feeling pretty good for the second half.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

Advertisements

Cotswold Hilly 100 2018 review

andy_yu_andy_young_cotswold_hilly_100_2018

Young to Yu! Photo by Lis Yu

Many of you will know of my long-time resistance of joining a running club. The reasons why are long enough to be part of another post, so won’t be discussed here, but I will talk about my first foray into team running. Read on to find out how things went in the Cotswolds…

What is the Cotswold Hilly 100?

Organised by Stratford-upon-Avon Athletics Club for over 25 years, it’s a 100 mile team relay race that starts in Stratford-upon-Avon before winding its way through the Cotswolds, eventually finishing back in Shakespeare’s home town.

Clubs can enter a number of teams consisting of men, women and mixed genders. Each team can contain a maximum of 10 members, each running an approximate 10 mile leg. Teams are expected to support their own members with navigation, marshalling, hydration, and nutrition.

As the race’s name suggests, it’s not flat! Some legs are trickier than others, though it’s safe to say none are considered easy when everybody’s racing for position.

Leamington Spa Striders and Kenilworth Runners have dominated the male team rankings, finishing first and second respectively in recent years.

Who are the Cannon Hill Crusaders?

And how did I come to come to run for the Cannon Hill Crusaders?

If I had to best describe the Cannon Hill Crusaders, I would liken them to Marvel’s Avengers. Common to both The Avengers and The Cannon Hill Crusaders is the occasionally evolving line-up, dependent on the situation. Whereas members are typically from the BRAT club, there are also members from Bournville Harriers, Bromsgrove & Redditch AC, Shabba Runners of Walsall, and those who are unattached. The common link is that everybody is a regular at Cannon Hill parkrun.

I’ve known several of the Crusaders for a number of years and I was actually asked to participate in a race with them on a previous occasion, though declined due to non-compatibility with my then schedule (it was the Equinox 24). Fast-forward to earlier this year and I received an out of the blue message from team captain, Andy Young, scoping out my feelings of participating in the Cotswold Hilly 100. The date of the race fell 2 weeks after the Shakespeare Half Marathon, so I figured I would be in decent shape and it would serve as another opportunity to keep the pot boiling ahead of summer racing.

This was the team roster for the event:

  1. Jort van Mourik (15.8km, 47m ascent)
  2. Paul Shackleton (15.9km, 292m ascent)
  3. Steve Dunsby (17.1km, 191m ascent)
  4. Nathan Warren (15.9km, 229m ascent)
  5. Ashley Fawke (15.5km, 121m ascent)
  6. Andy Young (16.3km, 217m ascent)
  7. Andy Yu (16.5km, 97m ascent)
  8. Huw Jones (15.4km, 94m ascent)
  9. Adam Western (15.6km, 166m ascent)
  10. Toby Close (16.3km, 108m ascent)

Pre-race

I requested a mid-morning to mid-afternoon slot, so ended up with leg 7, which also seems to be the leg that everybody has experience of as former participants. Whilst being one of the less demanding legs of the day, it still includes 97m of elevation gain across 10.3 miles, and features nearly 2 miles of climbing from 5.5 miles. Leg 7 thankfully ends with 2 miles of steep downhill, though it can only be truly taken advantage of if one hasn’t blown to bits on the preceding climbs…

Andy Young took care of much of the team’s organisation, such as availability of support cars, estimated timings of baton handovers, and more. I was estimated to begin running at circa-13:30, though I assured I would be in position from 13:00 onwards. Being the bank holiday weekend, I sold the race as an opportunity for Lis and I to explore a bit of the Cotswolds, namely Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton-in-Marsh which are leg 7’s respective start and end points. Whilst I would have liked to have witnessed and supported on some of the other legs, I wasn’t sure how useful I would be as the newcomer to the team, so I simply did as I was requested without adding further complication to be factored in.

Lis and I spent a charming morning in Stow-on-the-Wold before making our way to the leg 7 start point. What we needed to bear in mind was the approximate nature of the maps provided by the race organisers, and Google Maps’ translation into postcodes for navigation. After a few wrong turns, we eventually located the handover point with plenty of awaiting runners and their support teams ready to spring into action.

It was interesting to observe how the different clubs and teams approached the race. Some were very much in it to win it (Leamington Spa Striders and Kenilworth Runners), whereas others were there for fun and the challenge. Kenilworth Runners had a people carrier with green and white balloons attached for the avoidance of doubt for their faster team members. One core requirement is that all teams must have finished by 18:00 that day, so everybody is given the opportunity to start at 05:00, 06:00 or 07:00, and explained why there was so much traffic going through, with slower teams starting earlier.

I received real-time updates from the rest of the team out on the course, which proved to be rather exciting. Ashley Fawke took us from 7thto 4thall within leg 5 for a tremendous performance. Sadly, the Massey Ferguson club fielded a very strong runner for the 6thleg, overtaking Andy Young to put us back into 5thplace. To give you an idea of just how strong their runners was, he completed his leg in around 59 minutes; back when 10 mile races were far more common, a sub-60 minute performance in a flat 10 mile race was and still is a good club runner standard – to run 59 minutes within a Cotswold Hilly 100 leg is some good going! Two Stratford-upon-Avon AC members from separate teams arrived next, after some cock-up with their end points to leave their team manager spitting feathers on the phone wondering where they were.

In the distance was Andy Young, sprinting towards me with everything he had to pass the baton (a 10cm long piece of plastic drain pipe). It was time to show my team what I had!

The race

Fully warmed up and mildly tapered, I was bursting with energy as I propelled down the country lane. I wanted to rein the pace in a little, especially as I was initially running downhill and had to leave something for the undulations and climbs that followed.

Knowing how poor my sense of direction can be at times, I elected to trial a new feature of my Garmin 935 – turn-by-turn navigation! Before the race, I plotted the leg 7 course via Garmin Connect and uploaded it to the 935. When you’re in position, it presents the route as a green line and the current position as an arrow. The trick is to keep your position arrow on the green line! Accompanying the display is an arrow for North and another arrow pointing towards the finish (useful for ad-hoc shortcuts). I was happy to test the feature because I knew the Crusaders would be out on the course to marshal me at major junctions, so there was no risk if it failed. And do you know what? It lived up to its promise and was flawless! Sharp turns were alerted in advance with a corresponding left or right arrow, whereas gradual turns simply had you follow the green line. The only downside is you’re not presented with a map and only a green line on a white background – for true maps, you need the Fenix 5X with its larger, higher resolution screen. This is largely not a problem on simple junctions, though could prove to be an issue on complex roundabouts with multiple exits within close proximity to each other; you would only know you’ve taken the wrong exit once your position arrow no longer lines up with the green line on the other side. Aside from that, it’s golden!

With the above bit of technology proving to be a little miracle, I opted to keep my Garmin on the route face to leave me running largely without data feedback. I knew not of my pace or distance covered apart from when my Garmin triggered a 1 mile interval alert. I was racing to feel and hoping that I’d pitched the effort correctly… Heck, even if I wanted to rely on the data, I’d accidentally hit the lap button on my Garmin to become an OCD sufferer’s worst nightmare!

As promised, some of the guys were waiting at the bottom of the junction for me, with the rest further on at the next one. Adam Western – the team’s other new member – offered me water, whilst the others held on to two gels I’d given them just before the start of my leg.

Whereas Birmingham was being drowned by torrential rain and flash flooding, the Cotswolds was sunny overhead and warm. I did wonder if I was overcooking things as I rapidly got up to what felt like race effort, with my breathing at perhaps 8/10 in terms of intensity.

At the next major junction was the second half of the team. Whilst an unusual situation for me, I 100% appreciated the regular, albeit brief, company I received from the Crusaders. The team and Darryll Thomas had both warned me beforehand that it can be a very lonely run and that it’s unlikely I would see other competitors out there. The support I received continued for the next couple of miles without any change, barring Lis who tried to follow the route to also provide a few additional cheers alongside the guys.

The sun was really starting to beat down on me, so the regular water provided was mana from heaven, with more of it going on me than in me for instant relief from the warm conditions. I eventually zoned out because the countryside is the countryside, whether you’re in the Cotswolds or Wales. To further add to my own confusion and disconnect, I received the first of my gels at what I thought to be mile 4 as requested, though it was probably nearer 2.5 to 3 miles.

Turning at a sharp corner, I was presented with a view of the two Stratford-upon-Avon AC runners that had started minutes before me. Chasing them down became a new objective, though neither of them were much trouble and I’d reeled them both in over the course of several hundred metres. This is where the story takes a humorous turn, for I’d taken a bottle from team member, Adam. Not wanting to carry it until the next time I saw the team, which could have been minutes or miles, I heard a car approaching me from behind and reasoned it to be either Crusader car 1 or 2. As they pulled alongside me, they grabbed the bottle and that should have been a job jobbed. But no. It turned out to be the team manager for Stratford-upon-Avon AC! “Don’t worry, your team will be along to pick it up,” she said, before tossing it on to the grass on the side of the road before driving off into the distance. The Crusaders were only just behind by perhaps 10m and none of us could figure out what had just happened. The rest of the team thought it was Lis in that car, because why else would she have taken the bottle? All very befuddling…

Having overtaken two of the host club’s runners, I received a boost and new motivation to keep pushing – critical, as the near-2 miles of climb had arrived. Whilst I had survived the many short climbs up to this particular point, the heat now made things especially daunting. I normally have a quick cadence at my disposal, but for the first time in the entire race, I felt like I was running through treacle and making little to no progress upwards, but I continued pushing. As the latest member of the team, I couldn’t face being the one to let everybody down! And besides, I also had Barry Fallon’s 2017 leg 7 performance to keep me plugging away! It was also on this particular climb that I first met fellow team-member, Ashley Fawke, supporting me with some water and some encouragement.

Post-climb and at one of the following team support stations, Jort van Mourik shared some new intel with me. Catching me off-guard, he revealed I’d managed to reduce Massey Ferguson’s 6 minute lead down to just some 2 minutes. With a little over 2 miles of the leg remaining and all the climbing completed, was I able to reduce the gap any further? I’m unsure if the delay in the progress update was intentional to maximise potency, or just a coincidence of the timing; nonetheless, I treated it as the former and ploughed on with chipping time away.

Turning the corner for the steep downhill descent into Moreton-in-Marsh, I caught a glimpse of the Massey Ferguson runner who’d started minutes before me. I was instructed by my team to run facing traffic on the right-hand side of the road, much like I’m wont to do on the country lanes of Wales. The Massey Ferguson runner, either through ignorance or on purpose due to chasing shortest line, ran on the left with high-speed traffic coming up behind him… By this stage, I was pretty tired and the heat had taken a toll on me; I’m not sure I was able to truly capitalise on the downhill stretch and I prayed for my quads and what condition they would be in over the following day or two.

Once the course levelled out, the team were there again with rousing support and two final details to keep stoking my competitive fire inside. The Massey Ferguson runner ahead of me had been chopped down to just a minute’s lead and, crucially, held third place for his team. Like a red rag to a bull, this was all I needed to hear before firing up the afterburners to give chase with everything I had.

I returned to running on the pavement to eventually overtake a female Kenilworth Runner, fully laden with a hydration pack; I could only guess she was on a team with less strategic support to have to carry her own nutrition during the race. I’ve since heard of stories of some runners having to walk their 10 mile legs in reverse to get back to their own cars! If a team can’t provide a support car for their runners, then should they really be fielding a team?

Being reeled in ever more was the Massey Ferguson runner, by this point probably only some 30 seconds and a few hundred metres away from me. Seeing my team for the last time before the finish of my leg, they offered water once more to which I declined for fear of it slowing me down and breaking my stride. I was firing on all cylinders and I hoped that I wouldn’t run out of road before I could catch my target! The path that lead into Moreton-in-Marsh was not designed for competitive running, for it was pretty much single file; I had to bellow a number of times to alert other users that I would be passing, to which they all kindly obliged and gave way to me. Sensing only a few hundred metres of the leg remaining from the increasing number of cars parked and in traffic, I laid on a kick in a last ditch attempt to grind Massey Ferguson’s 6 minute advantage down to zero. He was now only some 60m away from me, but the sight of Lis and the team confirmed my fears that I had run out of race; I kicked with what was left to hand the baton over to Huw Jones to continue with leg 8, confident that I had made a worthwhile contribution to the Cannon Hill Crusaders that afternoon.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for leg 7. I neglected to stop my Garmin correctly due to following a course, so I’ve had to crop the Strava performance to an approximate level.

Dehydrated and feeling nauseous from the heat, I dropped to one knee and couldn’t stop panting as I tried to cycle as much air into and out of my lungs as possible. Adam gave me some water to spray myself down with and congratulated me on my efforts, as did the rest of the team. Ever the perfectionist, Andy asked me if I could have somehow found another 12 seconds inside me to have drawn neck and neck with Massey Ferguson; I retorted in jest and asked if he could have finished his leg 12 seconds faster to have given us the same net result. My Garmin reported a 5.0 maximum aerobic effort and a 72 hour recovery window; in other words, I’d wrung myself dry out there!

Lis and I parted with the team, who went on to support Huw on his leg. Humorously, it was later revealed that Huw and Massey Ferguson were locked in a stalemate battle, with neither conceding much to the other. Whilst Huw was the stronger of the two on the climbs, Massey Ferguson’s runner was better at capitalising on the descents, with the 12 second deficit remaining constantly intact.

The Cannon Hill Crusaders made their marks during legs 9 and 10, where we ended up with an advantage of over 3 minutes to finish third place on the men’s podium!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time, albeit brief, with the Cannon Hill Crusaders. This was probably one of the most challenging races I’ve ever competed in because it was more than just about timing and pacing, but rather actual racing. Never having run for a club before, let alone a team, it was an entirely new experience to compete not only for myself, but also for the greater good of others relying on my performance. I’ve already shared that I would be keen to compete again at next year’s race!

 

This week’s running – 7th to 20th May 2018

heatwave2017

Vests at the ready!

Due to tapering the previous week, there wasn’t much going on, so I’ve rolled a fortnight into one post.

9 miles with 1 at marathon pace and 1 at half marathon pace

This was much harder than it should have been and the paces didn’t come as naturally as I wanted. There was a rather strong headwind blowing as high pressure and low pressure competed across the UK weather system. Rather than pile on fatigue, I was satisfied with a 6:47 marathon paced mile and a 6:21 half marathon paced mile.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 miles easy with strides

Lis and I had a midwife appoint scheduled in, so I took the afternoon off and got this run out of the way before the good weather brought everybody back out to Cannon Hill Park.

Much like Tuesday’s run with miles at pace, the easy effort here didn’t feel as free flowing as it should have. I reassured myself that there’s always a feeling of sluggishness with any taper of more than a few days and that this was perfectly normal – I hoped!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With the Shakespeare Half Marathon the following day, I of course did my part and volunteered at Cannon Hill parkrun.

As ever, I was positioned at my favourite section, moving between the 1km, 2.5km and 4.2km points on the course. Teamed up with me were Stuart and Ethan. Stuart was also running the Shakespeare Half Marathon (I did bump into him) and Ethan was one of the current crop of Duke of Edinburgh Award participants.

Marshalling was entirely without incident, so rather than talk about Cannon Hill parkrun on this occasion, I want to direct your attention to the recently released independent parkrun podcast: Free Weekly Timed. Hosted by Vassos Alexander and Louise Ayling, each episode lasts some 29 minutes to coincide with the current average parkrun finishing time (in the UK?). I’ve very quickly grown to adore the show and wish the run time was longer – everybody needs to get slower to bring the average finish time down to make this happen! For those that remember the now defunct parkrun Show, Free Weekly Timed is far more accessible without having to wade through wall-to-wall in-jokes and nomenclature, which I would dare say is down to the 29 minute runtime.

Another new show I’d like to recommend is the Runners World UK podcast. A bit less personality, due to the association with a magazine, but the content has been varied and worthwhile so far after only a few episodes. Whether this show can go the distance (pun intended) is undecided, especially as the US version ended abruptly after 67 episodes to then transition into a more general fitness podcast.

Shakespeare Half Marathon 2018 review

For the full report of the 2018 Shakespeare Half Marathon, please click here.

5k recovery

And boy was recovery needed!

It was probably the Yorkshire Marathon that last busted me this badly in pursuit of a PB. A very gentle pace this was.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I’m very much of the school of thought that tapering into a race means you should also taper out of the other side, too. I’m frequently amazed and horrified in equal measure at people that dive straight back into full-on training after big races; track sessions, tempo runs, fast parkruns – you know what I’m talking about.

I think I pitched the effort correctly on this occasion because Strava tells me this was the slowest occurrence of this route!

Here’s there Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Fortunately for me, the forecasted warm spell was delayed by a couple of days; I’m not sure I would have been ready for a warm medium-long run from the office. Also fortuitous was a rare tailwind!

Whereas Brindley Place was quite populated, the remainder of my run was fairly tranquil with few other souls about. This is likely down to the still closed section between The Vale and Islington Middleway, where most can’t be bothered to work out the detour. The closure is supposed to be lifted this week; I wait patiently for confirmation…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Conscious that I was still recovering, suffering from sleep deprivation, and conditions were warm, I opted to keep things pretty calm and relaxed with a sub-20 finish. It’s still very bizarre that a sub-20 parkrun is now my half marathon pace; I think it’ll take a while to get over that one, especially as it took me an entire summer in 2013 to get below 20 minutes over 5k!

Starting off conservatively allowed me to reel people in over the duration of the run. Plenty were breathing heavily within the first km and can’t have fared well for the remaining 4k. Looking at the results, there were people massively ahead of me at the 1km marker, who ended up finishing almost a minute after my 19:46!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to The Vale and back

Wowza. This was officially my warmest long run of the year, though I’m expecting warmer runs to come as the summer rolls into town. Whereas I had hydrated well beforehand, I ended up having to stop at around 4 miles within Kings Heath Park for a toilet break. Damn body. This run will teach it to be so casual about hydration! I took a bottle of water with electrolytes for the second half of the run, which paid dividends.

Anticipating a tough run, I purposely held back in the first half to maximise success and minimise distress. Everything seemed to tick along quite nicely until I picked up a stitch at around 10-11 miles, likely caused by not leaving enough time between breakfast and heading out. Physically prodding the affected area, it was tender to the touch and nearly stopped me in my tracks a few times. Thankfully, I was able to run through the discomfort for it to finally dispel as I left the canal towpath; it would have been a long walk for home like that failed 19 miles from last summer, otherwise!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Shakespeare Half Marathon 2018 review

shakespeare_half_marathon_2018_bib_medal

Woo hoo! Not cancelled!

My fourth attempt at racing a spring half marathon after many cancellations. Read on to find out how things went.

Pre-race

Newport Half Marathon – cancelled (twice!)

Coventry Half Marathon – cancelled

Wilmslow Half Marathon – postponed

It’s with plenty of irony that the only half marathon I’d successfully been able to run in 2018 up to this particular race was the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, which was actually pretty reasonable in terms of weather conditions in spite of its name!

Feeling like I’d failed to truly capitalise on the opportunity presented to me in above said race, I’ve long felt like some sort of redemption was in order. I’d done the training, consisting of near-weekly bouts of 15 mile long runs, time at half marathon pace and a couple of what felt like near-maximal parkruns. Throw in the recent PB at the DK10K sans any specific 10k work and the odds of a credible PB performance were moving in my favour. Sub-83 was the target for the morning…

Whilst May half marathons aren’t my thing, especially after 2017’s Tewkesbury Half Marathon sweat-fest, I had few options available to me that were optimal for a fast time with a decent field. I was also flying solo at this race; Lis had a prior engagement and I knew not of anybody running the half marathon, though there were familiar faces I was aware of in the marathon.

With a 09:00 start, it meant an even earlier departure from Birmingham for me. I’d budgeted some 45 minutes for the drive, giving me over an hour beforehand for various pre-race admin, such as warming up, toilets and so on. I counted my lucky stars as I’d seemingly arrived before the masses with my pick of spaces in one of the car parks located roughly halfway between the runner’s village and the start line. With time to kill, I’d opted to head over to the runner’s village to scope things out. Bumping into a volunteer who seemed too eager to help, I asked if the “village” was straight ahead. “No, that’s not the village,” came her confusing reply. Looking around, there were plenty of runners heading in the direction that I pointed in. “That’s not the runner’s village?” I quizzed. “Oh, yes it is. I thought you meant Stratford-upon-Avon town centre.” I know we’re not supposed to judge volunteers too harshly, but…

The runner’s village was located at the same spot as where Stratford-upon-Avon parkrun takes place. Despite warnings of limited parking spaces, cars were backed up in the queue trying to get in. I did a quick reccy of the grass finishing straight to confirm my own fears that I couldn’t rely on a finishing kick like usual – I’d have to make a bigger dent during the body of the race.

Returning to the car, I embarked on a 2 mile warm-up with a set of strides thrown in for good measure. Whilst it was only 08:15 or so, I was already breaking out in a sweat and my heart rate was elevated. Form didn’t come easily, likely due to a slightly too heavy taper.

Back at the car for the second time, there were still plenty of spaces available. If you’re reading this ahead of the Shakespeare races, do yourself a favour and park at the Bridgeway multi-storey car park. Payment is made on exit to save you a few minutes, unlike the runner’s village car park that requires payment up front. Furthermore, there are plenty of toilets at one of the exits. OK, 20p was required, but judging by the length of the pre-race queues adjacent to the start, I’m sure many would have happily paid up if given the option!

I bumped into BRAT member, Rob Dowse on my way to the start line. We both agreed we were too far back in the field and began navigating through the crowds to be nearer the front – advice I’d been given beforehand. All of a sudden, we found ourselves in a clearing almost on the start line itself! The familiar faces of Simon Rhodes, Orlando Corea and Peter Dimbleby of Birchfield Harriers were in attendance, helping to make the time ahead of the start fly by. Steve Edwards of 1,000-targeted marathons-fame was the guest race starter for the day. Rather clumsily, they had to somehow allow him to enter the race from his starter’s position, requiring a few barriers to be moved aside… Go time!

The race

Miles 1 to 3

Sometimes you don’t get a feel for a race from a simple overhead map view. Studying the route, I noted that there were several sharp right hand turns in quick succession through the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon town centre. After turning right a couple of times, I had no idea which direction I was running in anymore! Also, if it weren’t for all the turns, I’d have probably gone even faster than the 6:14 I registered as an opening mile (this was the fastest of the day)!

Runners very quickly found their positions and surprisingly held them with little chopping and changing. I clocked a Halesowen Triathlete (who looked suspiciously like the guy that finished one place behind me at the recent DK10K) and a woman in a purple vest (third place) just slightly ahead of me by 10m – no matter what I did early on, the 10m between me and this pair remained constant. Undulations added some slowdown for mile 2 to come in at 6:23.

The first of many water stations appeared quite early on, for which I was grateful for given how warm the morning was getting without the forecasted cloud cover. For the first time in a race, I was offered a wet sponge, though declined. Wanting just a bottle of water, I went towards the volunteer on the right, to follow the race line; out of the blue, he stepped over to the other side for some unknown reason whilst his hands were still full of bottled water, leaving me without! Panicking, I quickly went wide to grab a bottle from the final volunteer, with much chuckling behind me… Mile 3 came in at 6:21 to average out at 6:19 – sub-83 was still on!

Miles 4 to 6

The Halesowen Triathlete and the woman in purple remained elusive in spite of my best efforts to reel them in. As we approached the first of two significant climbs on the half marathon route, I hoped the hill would send them back to me, but sadly not. Thankfully, I was able to join and detach from a number of small groups to rarely be running on my own. Within one group, somebody was horrified to learn that he was actually running at closer to 83 minute pace when all he wanted was an 86 minute finish…

Even though I chose to wear my Nike Vaporfly 4%, they seemed to perceivably offer less benefit than in previous races. Comparably, the lack of propulsion was akin to how they felt during the Gloucester New Year’s Eve 10 Mile; by the end of this race, they’d have over 80 miles on them to be pretty much at their half-life before severe decline kicks in.

Miles 4, 5 and 6 held steady for 6:24, 6:23 and 6:23. Were it not for the undulations, I’d have hit the required 6:20 per mile pace for a shot at a sub-83 finish.

Miles 7 to 10

Somewhere on the approach to 7, the Halesowen Triathlete disappeared from view suddenly; one minute he was there and the next, he’d drifted backwards in the blink of an eye. The woman in purple began to wobble slightly as the course began climbing. “Keep at it. There’s a nice downhill stretch at 8 miles,” I shared with her to try and keep her motivated and ahead of me. There was no response and within the few hundred metres that followed, she had also drifted behind me.

Luckily for me, the second place woman was just ahead on the horizon. Through a combination of the climb slowing her down and a small surge from me, I was able to work my way up to her over a few hundred metres. I revealed to her that the woman in purple was not far behind. She let out a response of surprise, for she had been stalking Nicola Sykes of Bournville Harriers for much of the race, whereas there was a race for second place going on right behind her. Miles 7 and 8 featured plenty of climbing for 6:27 and 6:35 respectively.

Cresting the hill, it’s a pretty steep descent all the way down! My left quad is shot as I type this report out and I’m pretty certain it was travelling downhill on this particular section that’s done it. A cyclist joined Jo behind me; I had no idea whether he knew her or not, but I did pick up snippets of his dialogue including some encouragement and confirmation that she was indeed in second place before he shot off. An additional set of footsteps joined us from a Kenilworth runner I’d shared some dialogue with during the opening mile, though he seemed quite transient and drifted backwards again once the descent flattened out.

Working with Jo was like mana from heaven. We managed to recover some pace damage to get miles 9 and 10 to 6:16 and 6:17 respectively. I did what I could to keep Jo motivated to chase down Nicola Sykes in the hope that she could tow me to a faster time and a higher finishing position. She was well aware of Nicola’s ability, recalling that she went on to win the race a year ago. I’d originally assumed Jo was a Birchfield Harrier from her all black vest and shorts, but she turned out to be an unattached runner like me.

Just when I thought we were at the beginning of a subtle kick for the final 5k…

Miles 11 to 13.1

…the Greenway struck!

What is the Greenway? It’s a straight as a die path that makes up the majority of the final 5k of the Shakespeare races. It’s a disused railway line that’s been filled in; it’s pancake flat barring a few very subtle rises and dips. Unfortunately, the top surface of the route is a fine and loose dirt to cause some traction loss. Coupled with its seemingly never ending nature, the Greenway caused both Jo and me to lose some 10 seconds per mile despite our effort remaining the same. It was an incredibly jarring experience to abruptly transition from running on the paved road to such a surface. Miles 11 and 12 came in for 6:28 pace.

We tried to keep our spirits up and had successfully chipped away some of Nicola’s lead to be only 20 seconds or so behind.

For the first time in a long time of racing half marathons, I wished I had another gel to slurp down. Three didn’t feel like enough on this day, especially with such a focused effort on a PB with no cloud cover – energy expenditure was always going to be high.

After what felt like a lifetime on the Greenway making no perceivable progress, we were finally sent back on to the road for a welcome return to traction. The only downside? We were instructed to stay inside some cones, akin to the final few hundred metres of the DK10K. There was little room to manoeuvre or overtake; I was caught behind a tiring runner when all I wanted to do was press on! I waited for the main road to clear before I stepped outside of the cones to briefly surge forwards. The Kenilworth runner followed and we both slotted back into a gap that presented itself. The return to road running was short-lived for we were sent 180° and single file on to another section, off-road.

We now had hedges on either side of us, which is not what you want in the final few hundred metres of a race! Returning on to a paved path in the recreation ground, I tried kicking but nausea took hold. My stomach churned as the effort ramped up significantly. “Keep going,” the Kenilworth runner encouraged. I knew I was at my limit. “You go on,” I snatched. Passing the mile 13 marker, I went through in 6:18 to be ages away from the sub-6 ultimate mile I ran at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon back in January. Before long, I’d made it on to the grass finishing straight; I was at least thankful I’d wrung myself dry as the grass would have been frustrating to run on if a finishing kick was required. Nearing the finish, the compere called out my name. From the crowd, a female voice cheered me on by name to confuse me; I wasn’t aware of anybody I knew spectating, but it turned out to be Trudie – a Kings Heath Running Club member Lis has run with on a number of occasions. I hurtled for the finish because on the other side was a chance to stop and recover!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

There is one benefit to the finishing straight and funnel being on grass – you can simply collapse in a heap with a soft thud! The disadvantage to finishing with a thud on grass is grass stains… I took a few sidesteps to my right so as not to be in the way of other finishers. A paramedic rushed over, just in case, though I reassured him I was fine and just needed a few moments to recover. The friendly paramedic helped me back up on to my feet when I was ready. “That was a strong finish back there. Well done!” “Thanks. A PB of 30 seconds or so. Thank you for your help!” Officially via chip timing, I finished in 83:39 for a 29 second improvement; I was a little disappointed as I had hoped to go under 83 minutes, or at least low 83 minutes. I lost around 30 seconds out on the course with the climbing and the traction issues on the Greenway, so I’m pretty confident I’d have done it on a flatter road course.

I caught up with Jo, who wasn’t able to kick with the Kenilworth runner and me upon leaving the Greenway. She confirmed her second place finish, though shared she was around a minute off from a PB due to the London Marathon that was still in her legs. Phenomenally, she revealed she completed London in 3:01, and had a 2:52 marathon PB to her name from 2017! I was in awe and had no idea I’d run with such esteemed company!

A few more familiar faces came through, including Alex Parker of Birchfield Harriers and Rob Dowse who I’d bumped into before the race. Rob was outside of his sub-90 target and also blamed the loss of traction and motivation on the never-ending Greenway. We both reasoned that such a running surface shouldn’t be as devastating to pace as it is, with plenty of fast parkrun courses taking place on similar terrain with no qualms from runners.

A couple of stats and facts for you:

  • Equivalent to more than 4x sub-20 5ks, back-to-back
  • Equivalent to more than 2x sub-40 10ks, back-to-back
  • Fastest 10 miles ever – 63:41
  • Bloody left nipple

My next crack at sub-83 will be the postponed Wilmslow Half Marathon in June, which I will be tackling with Darryll Thomas for a joint-PB-busting effort. Part of my issue was the transient nature of the groups and runners around me; except for Jo, there was nobody else that I was able to reliably work with and downplay the exertion. It’s a realisation I will have to come to terms with that I as I grow faster, there will be ever diminishing numbers of runners to work with except at races with the fastest of reputations.

Would I do the Shakespeare Half Marathon again? I’m undecided for now. It was easy to get to and pretty well organised, with plenty of water on the course. Irrespective of my PB that morning, I would not consider it a fast course due to the undulations and that damn Greenway. The climb at mile 8 could be brutal if you go out too hard and can’t hang on. Many people I know were at least a minute or two from their 13.1 mile bests to give any would-be runners a better idea of what to expect.

Next up: the Cotswold Hilly 100 team relay!

 

 

This week’s running – 30th April to 6th May 2018

andy_vernon_great_birmingham_10k_2018

Andy Vernon at the Great Birmingham 10k 2018

The taper for the Shakespeare Half Marathon begins!

5k recovery

With the DK10K on Wednesday, I wanted one full rest day ahead of the race, so this was the final run before then. I’m now firmly in the camp of no running the day before a target race!

Nothing strenuous at all – just an easy 5k at recovery pace to keep my legs moving.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

DK10K 2018 review

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

Cannon Hill parkrun

After the DK10K, I was in the mood to take advantage of the taper window, newly found fitness and excellent conditions on offer at Cannon Hill. Being the John Enright-Darren Hale Memorial Run, attendance lived up to expectations, though no attendance records were broken due to the Great Birmingham 10k the following day.

3:41 per km was the target pace to beat for a new PB. Sadly, I felt like I was still suffering the effects of the DK10K. My legs had little resilience to them and my Garmin reported a -5 condition score – ouch…

From the line, I remained in control and found myself tailing Ed Barlow and kept the effort low. 3:45 felt sustainable, so that’s what I sat at for the 1st and 2nd km. It was a strange morning, as many of those traditionally faster than me were on my tail, whereas several traditionally behind me, were ahead! Andy Young was one of those in my rear view mirror, whereas Chris Callow had a sizable advantage of some 15 seconds.

That awkward 3rd km struck, with everybody around me slowing slightly, so my natural reaction was to also slow. I ended up drafting behind Matt Lewis and a Bournville Harrier – both taking it easy ahead of the following day’s 10k race. This was quite a pleasant spot to be in, as they comfortably paved the way for me and allowed me to just switch off and follow, resulting in a 3:49.

Moving into the 4thkm, they were both casually chatting for a total contrast to my quiet suffering from the exertion. “You’re both making this look far too easy,” I shared with them from behind. “You’ve gotta go for it, Andy,” Matt instructed. He and the Bournville Harrier gave me some more encouragement and both created a gap for me to slip between them. “OK. I’ll go for it…” came my pensive reply. I crept away by a few steps to chase down the next person ahead. Andy Young latched on and came along to overtake me. The collective effort and encouragement got me back on track for a steady 3:46.

One final swift km, with Chris Callow as a rabbit to chase down, got me back in with 18:35, perhaps 18:36 in the official results. Sadly, some sort of barcode scanning error means I’ve not been recorded! Fingers crossed the organisers will manually add me – the generally practiced etiquette is that anybody that turns up to run with a physical barcode, even if it cannot be scanned, will be added into the results.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to The Vale and back

With a warm day on hand and spectating duties at the Great Birmingham 10k, I opted to head out earlier than normal. It appeared many other runners not racing also did the same, for I was rarely alone for long on the canal towpath.

Passing Bournville Station on the out leg, all was silent. On the return, it was heaving as runners and spectators filled the platform that headed in the direction of the city centre.

I did not envy those participating in the race. I was working up a sweat just casually running at around 8:00 per mile with occasional shade from trees that lined the towpath. 10 miles was more than enough for me – thank you to the taper!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Great Birmingham 10k

Lis and I spent some time spectating the race, shortly after the 5k point and next to Cannon Hill Park. As runners, we largely see little of the organisation behind a race until it directly impacts us in some way. As spectators, we both saw some of the shonkiest organisation either of us had ever seen, and Lis has spectated plenty of races!

A van had somehow found itself on the route before the race started, yet the two security personnel for the patch we found ourselves in were largely clueless as to what to do with him! They eventually got him on his way, but it was so painful to watch.

The next calamity occurred when an ambulance had to get on the course. Neither the security guards, the highways agent, nor the marshal knew what to do! Eventually, they teamed up and separated the runners from the ambulance, but it still shouldn’t have taken nearly as long as it did.

Finally, fellow-run-blogger Shaun Hemmings was the official 40 minute pacer, yet was instructed not to start in the first wave, which would have contained all the people looking to run under 40 minutes. What madness!

Anyway…

Well done to everybody to that ran, especially those that PBd under such brutal conditions.

DK10K 2018 review

dk10k_2018_andy_yu

The DK10K – not the easiest of 10k races

First 10k race since July 2017, and first in any real anger since 2016! Read on to find out how things went…

For the 2015 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

Once May rolls around, there’s no shortage of 10k races, both at the weekend and mid-week. The DK10K takes place on the first Wednesday of May, often just before or just after the Great Birmingham 10k. At £16 with chip timing, a t-shirt and water, it’s almost half the price of the Great Birmingham 10k and continues to be popular in spite of competition. I missed this gem of a race last year due to coming back from injury and tapering for the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, though ran it in 2015 and 2016. It’s not the fastest of courses with near-constant undulation, though it does attract a decent field, especially from 36-45 minutes; ideal if you’re the sort of runner that needs contact with others in a race.

Taking the afternoon off from work to facilitate a stress-free build-up, two questions remained at the top of my mind: what should I eat beforehand, and when? Don’t judge me for this, but I ended up wolfing down 2x chicken & mushroom Pot Noodles and 2x jam donuts… A concentrated beetroot juice shot helped wash all that down. In no way do I recommend this concoction!

Traffic on the way to the race HQ (Dudley Kingswinford Rugby Club) was horrendous as it always is, especially when living on the wrong side of Birmingham in this case. Simon Bull and I travelled separately, but were both caught up in various tailbacks, roadworks and breakdowns that are atypical of British roads from 16:00 to 18:00 during the week.

Arriving on site and parking up, it was perhaps 60 seconds before I bumped into Chris Harrison – the first of many familiar faces – such is the local running community nature of the DK10K.

The weather had been incredibly unpredictable all day. Wearing a full tracksuit, I began my 2 mile warm-up jog in a bid to try and awaken my slumbering legs. Within some 800m, I concluded I was overdressed. I anticipated the warm-up would feel sub-par and it didn’t disappoint. I regretted my choice of pre-race fuel, feeling bloated with everything sloshing around inside, and this was despite 3 hours having passed already! Thankfully, my stomach was convinced to cooperate and began digesting its contents more effectively after 2 miles.

Upon ending my warm-up, my Garmin flagged up my condition score: +4! Somewhat dumbfounded, I began considering my options. I’m lucky if I see +3 usually, so would covering the race at planned half marathon pace be selling myself short? The following week’s Shakespeare Half Marathon is the A-goal and the DK10K was always supposed to be just a training run to get 6 miles at pace in. A stiff headwind blew from the west, which would impact the first 3 or 4km, putting any PB attack into jeopardy early on. “Stick to the plan,” I reassuringly convinced myself. There would be plenty of 10k races over the spring and summer to make a dent into my 10k PB.

Meeting up with Simon, more familiar faces from the West Midlands running scene came into view, including Craig Watters (a rival from Great Run Local at The Vale) and his daughter. Because you can never be too warmed up, Simon and I embarked on another few hundred metres around the rugby pitch with a set of strides. Conditions had rapidly improved from all the rain that battered the region earlier in the day – it was bone dry underfoot, even on the grass!

We were ushered over to the start line along a back route rather than via the rugby club’s main entrance as per previous years; this detour was likely to allow the road outside to remain open for a little while longer and to keep local residents sweet. The slow-zombie shuffle over to the start line ensured we were all like tightly wound springs, ready to launch at any moment. Simon and I seeded ourselves accordingly into the start field; in spite of the chip timing as standard and the wide road ahead of us on offer, there was the usual assortment of clowns that decided to park themselves into the first few rows. Start where you think you’ll finish in the field! A near-inaudible safety briefing was given, which nobody paid any attention to, followed by a very abrupt starting order. Go time!

The race

andy_yu_dk10k_2018_01

Start of the 2018 DK10K – photo by Brian Smith

Expectedly, due to the flat-come-subtle-downhill nature of the opening km, everybody around me went hooning off like it was the start of a 5k race. I had my eye on certain individuals who were likely to finish at around my target time, yet they were quickly drifting away into the horizon… “Stay calm,” I said to myself. This was a test of half marathon pace and if I wasn’t able to finish 10k feeling comfortable, then there would be no way I could finish 13.1 miles at the same pace. I ended up overshooting my target of 3:55 per km (6:18 per mile) to end up with 3:50 per km (6:10 per mile). The pace felt too easy and effortless!

During 2km came the significant climb of the course. Inevitably, many of the people that shot off from the start line came back to me, providing ample drafting assistance from the headwind that blew. Whereas many around me were already huffing and puffing, my breathing remained near-silent. I dropped down a gear to 4:03 for the km with the knowledge that a high-speed section followed shortly afterwards to make amends.

Surprisingly, even with the steep descent, not a single person overtook me on this stretch or for the remainder of the race for that matter. I allowed my stride to open up and for gravity to carry me to the bottom, almost bounding with each step. 3km came in for 3:45 to be the second fastest split of the evening… So much for half marathon pace!

The route took runners left into a tree-lined portion of the course. Whilst undulations continued, one could consider this the next flattest stretch after the opening and final km. I continued to reel runners in, including the third place female – a Tipton Harrier. I’d already overtaken Craig’s daughter, which gave me a big dose of confidence as I’ve always finished behind her on previous encounters. Approaching the sole water station of the race, I signalled to the volunteer I wanted, only for her to drop the cup just as I went for the grab! I quickly signalled to another volunteer, only for him to grip the cup too tightly, resulting in both of us crushing it and leaving only a small sip of water behind… Oh well, at least it wasn’t a warm evening!

Passing through halfway, there was no clock on this occasion. Checking my Garmin, I’d just ticked over to 19:26 to be slightly outside of 10k PB pace. A modestly faster second half would see me through to a cheeky PB, maybe. I took a look inside for some feedback. My breathing remained calm and steady. My shoulders and posture were relaxed. Conclusion: I felt great and with no struggle! I dropped the third place Tipton Harrier girl and progressed onwards to a small group consisting of the second place female – another Tipton Harrier – along with male Aldridge and Wolverhampton & Bilston club runners. I sat steady at the back of the pack, especially as they were running so metronomically to result in 5km and 6km splits of 3:53.

Remaining in the tree-lined section of the course, I wondered if it would ever end? Having only run the race twice previously, my memory was somewhat hazy of the landmarks and how long certain portions lasted. Sensing the pace was slowing, I gave some verbal encouragement to try and rally the group together into a shared goal. The pace continued slipping, so the Tipton Harrier and I allowed the Aldridge and Wolverhamton & Bilston runners to drop off whilst we pushed on. The monotony of the landscape began taking its toll on me, resulting in 7km at 3:56 and my second slowest split of the evening. Was everything about to fall to pieces?

Turning left on the course, it was freedom at last! We exited the tree-lined stretch and moved straight into a climb… The Tipton Harrier really struggled to keep the pace up, forcing me to run wide of her so as not to take my foot off the throttle. I took advantage of the shallow descent on the other side to regain some of the damage from the slow 7thkm. This split was spent largely running solo, with the next guy ahead too far to reel in quickly. Facing the east, I was able to enjoy a very slight tailwind to facilitate a 3:52 for 8km.

Glancing at my Garmin’s elapsed time, I’d clocked in at just shy of 31:00. Wow. Definitely on PB pace, even if only by a few seconds. I reasoned that another steady 3:53 km and a fast finish would perhaps net me a sneaky PB. Spurred on, I eventually caught the runner ahead, also with thanks to a short but steep descent. The effort rapidly mounted upwards with my breathing reflecting the uptick. A grimace formed on my face as I ran through the metaphorical treacle that we all encounter in the late stages of a race. I thrusted my arms more vigorously in the hope that my legs would go with them – fortunately they did. With nobody immediately behind or ahead of me, the cheers and encouragement from the Navigation Inn were solely mine. I lapped it up, especially as I had yet another short climb to tackle! 9km came in for 3:53.

andy_yu_dk10k_2018_02

Sprinting for a PB – photo by Brian Smith

I began feeling a little queasy from the effort and possibly all the food I’d previously eaten. Taking another look at my Garmin, I noticed it ticking over to 35:00. I just needed a 3:44 or faster and a shiny new 10k PB was available for the taking, despite not setting out for one originally. Two Halesowen club runners bobbed up and down some 50m in the distance. Despite my best efforts to reel them in, they too began wrapping their races up to leave us in stalemate. The aptly named Mile Flat created the illusion of lasting forever with no change on the horizon. My face was strained; closing my eyes periodically on the long and predictable straight helped soothe some of the burn. Passing the gate that we all exited to reach the Mile Flat, I began my kick, and so did the Halesowen runners for the distance between us remained at approximately 50m! Staring into the distance, my eyes were trained to detect anybody turning right. There were some flashing lights ahead, which belonged to the lead car parked on the corner. Runners indeed began turning right to begin their re-entry into the rugby club and for the finish. Back in 2016, the barriers and narrow space the organisers had set aside for runners to follow caught me out; I wanted to kick harder, but I was boxed in by other runners on that occasion. Not so this time! Whilst I’d reclaimed some distance from the Halesowen runners, I still had ample berth to get my sprint on. Back in the rugby club, I was spurred on to throw down one final kick for the line. I pumped my arms and lengthened my stride to increase my speed. The cheers from the crowd grew louder with each step; the compere mentioned my bib number and name for one last incentive to leave nothing behind as I charged through the line…

Post-race

I gingerly took a few steps through the finish funnel, whilst chugging down as much air as possible. A quick glance of my Garmin confirmed all I needed to know – 38:41 (38:40 courtesy of chip timing) meant a new PB by just 5 seconds! This was significant because the last PB was achieved on a pancake flat course, albeit on one of the warmest days of the year.

I found a quiet spot on the finish funnel floor for a few brief minutes of recovery whilst shaking the hands of those I ran with during the middle of the race. Once recovered, I joined the spectators to cheer a few familiar faces back in, including Andy Wadsworth of Sparkhill Harriers, Rich Turvey of Halesowen Triathletes (and runner-up of the Stoneleigh Park Reindeer Run 20k), and of course, Simon. Stopping to chat with Andy and Rich, Simon asked if we would ever do a race where I didn’t at least know somebody. “Only in Iceland,” came my reply – the first place I could think of which fit the bill!

24 hours later and upon reflection, I’m reasonably confident I could have probably run 10 seconds faster for only marginally more discomfort. I felt at ease for much of the first half of the race, and I know I can suffer a lot more in the final stage. This not only bodes well for the plethora of 10k races I have scheduled for the summer (Aldridge 10k, Wythall Hollywood 10k, Magor 10k, maybe even more), but primarily next week’s Shakespeare Half Marathon. 82:XX suddenly doesn’t look so foolhardy anymore!

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

This week’s running – 23rd to 29th April 2018

andy_yu_merthyr_parkrun

Battling for third place at Merthyr parkrun – photo by Merthyr parkrun

The taper begins again. For the third time…

5k recovery

And just like that, the heat wave that struck the London Marathon was over within 24 hours, and cold and dreary normalcy resumed. A long sleeve top replaced the vest once more!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles with 2 at marathon pace and 1 at half marathon pace

Every Tuesday of late seems to be marred by unfavourable conditions, namely strong winds. This particular Tuesday was no different and all paced miles were straight into headwind. Saying that, I was pretty damn pleased with the splits:

  1. 6:44
  2. 6:46
  3. 6:23

My only concern is I’ve not spent as much time as I would like at or around half marathon pace, though the upcoming DK10K should remedy that.

Just as this run was concluding, some scrote decided to throw a half-eaten McFlurry out of a car at me! Thankfully, their aim was off and it landed some 2m ahead of me. What’s happened to society where people think it’s acceptable to do such a thing to somebody minding their own business on a run? I did contemplate picking the messy container up, chasing the car down and hurling it back through the open window, but they’d made it all the way up the road by the time I was ready…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

A week later and the fair-weather crowds from Cannon Hill Park had all dispersed. With the unpredictable nature of the weather, I currently have to pack a variety of kit to take to work with me. T-shirts, long sleeves, shorts, tights. I long for the simple times!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Run cut short because Thanos must be stopped!

Also known as 9 miles from work…

I love movies as much as I love running, so Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War is a big deal. I’ve been watching the franchise since 2008 – before I even started taking running seriously! I had tickets for an evening screening; time was tight to pack a decent length run in, get home, have dinner and shoot back out again. I decided 8 miles from the office would suffice and I could then catch the bus for the remaining 2 miles.

I left work feeling pretty lethargic and noted that tapering must begin soon. Nothing felt right or connected. Reaching the detour point on the canal south of Brindley Place, a lost runner stood trying to make sense of the diversion map. I paused and offered him assistance to get him back on to the canal towpath via The Vale, but he opted to just turn around as he didn’t think he’d be able to keep up with me. I was hoping he’d come along to help freshen me up, but alas…

Exiting the canal by Lifford Lane for 8 miles, horror spread across my face as I saw two buses drive past before I had a chance to reach the bus stop. Seeing as they were scheduled to run every 8 minutes, I didn’t fancy hanging around for 16 minutes whilst cooling down, so I continued running for home. As I neared each subsequent bus stop, I glanced over my shoulder in the hope that another bus appeared, only to be left disappointed. Keeping an eye on time, I was quickly running out and was forced to pick the pace up. Reaching home, there were just a few hundred metres between the buses and me, so it was pleasing that I wasn’t far behind schedule without motorised assistance!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

And how was Infinity War? Bloody fantastic! They actually pulled it off!

Merthyr parkrun

Lis and I were back in her motherland once more, which meant another dose of parkrun tourism! My Welsh parkrun tourist conspirator, Ben, was unavailable so the originally planned Bryn Bach parkrun mutated into a solo trip to Merthyr parkrun.

At just barely over a year old, Merthyr parkrun has built a small but dedicated following, typically attracting around 25 to 50 participants each week. Sharing its DNA with many other newer events, the event doesn’t actually take place in a park at all, but rather on a stretch of public path that follows the Taff River, behind Merthyr Tydfil’s leisure centre. The leisure centre provides parking, toilets and a café for the parkrun essentials, all within a compact space for not much required to-ing and fro-ing.

Arriving very early, I thought I’d sussed out the course after studying its route and profile. Jogging along the paved path, the smell of bacon from the nearby Travelodge hotel permeated the air! I arrived at a fork, which perfectly resembled that of the map I’d observed. Jogging the other way, volunteers had arrived and began setting up, prompting me to wrap things up.

I had a chat with the tail walker for the day, who gave me a run-down of the course and what to expect. His eyes bulged out of his head when he learned I’d recently broken 250 runs; whilst there are dozens of 250 Club members at Cardiff parkrun (a 10 year old event), there’s very little cross-over with Merthyr parkrun, in spite of the relatively short geographical distance between them. The smaller events make for a nice contrast from the larger events I’m accustomed to; everybody seems to know everybody else and the locals roll out the red carpet to make visitors feel welcome, taking a personal interest in why somebody would drive 50 minutes to attend Merthyr parkrun.

Walking over to the start line, a fellow tourist asked me if I knew the course layout. I held my hands up and explained to Ronnie that I was in the same boat as him and hoped that somebody faster than us knew the precise route! Ronnie was visiting from Catterick parkrun, near Darlington; I was incredibly jealous as he described his local course as taking place on a horse racing track, making it flat and especially fast on calm days. Confusingly, we faced the opposite direction than which I expected us to head; had I got the course wrong, even with the perfectly matching route that I jogged?

From the line, the pace felt rather sedate and there was little exuberance on display. One youngster pulled away by a few metres, whereas a pack comprising of me, Ronnie and a few others took chase. A few hundred metres in, I glanced at my Garmin for some feedback and was shocked to see none of the metrics moving. It was almost like the screen had frozen over and then I realised my folly; I’d not reset things after my 200m set of strides… I opted to kill the recording and start things over, which is easier said than done at 5k pace! Annoyingly also, my heart rate monitor’s chest strap continually slipped due to not being wet enough to stay in place…

Overhead, the course shares a few similarities with Cardiff’s Grangemoor parkrun. Both take place over relatively compact footprints and feature plentiful use of switchbacks – five in total for both parkrun events. We approached the first switchback, with everybody tackling it with the grace of a giraffe on an ice rink! The path was slick from overnight rain and Ronnie almost lost his footing, but recovered in a nick of time.

The second switchback arrived shortly; with such a narrow path, there were few options for how to take it with me deciding the slow-entry and fast-exit method would be best. I was firmly in fourth place with the possibility of third if Ronnie tired. On low attendance weeks, first place has been known to finish in high 19 minutes or low 20 minutes, but this day wasn’t such.

On the approach to the south of the course, another youngster from the back joined the fray and overtook all of us with ease to take the lead. The former leader decided he wasn’t going down without a fight, so a battle ensued.

Thankfully, the next switchback was on a wider path to facilitate a smoother manoeuvre. All of a sudden, the challenger to the new run leader walked off the course, grasping at his guts due to a stitch. “Keep at it! Walk it off,” I hollered to try and spur him on to rejoin us. It was no use; he was spent from what was probably a start that was too fast for him, along with the unexpected mid-run battle. In his place, a new challenger took over and moved away from Ronnie and me. The two of us now had a battle of our own for third place!

I was taken aback when Ronnie was able to keep pace on a climb, especially as he was much taller than me. Equally shocking was me pulling away on the descent on the other side! Runners with long strides normally leave me for dust on downhill sections of courses, so I figured he must have been tiring.

We flew through a high-speed underpass section with two particularly vocal and encouraging marshals spurring me to challenge for second place. That wasn’t going to happen, especially as there was at least a 20-30m gap that had formed.

Reaching the switchback with a bollard for the second time, I decisively chose to grasp it with both hands and swing myself around it in a bid to not lose too much speed or footing whilst trying to keep Ronnie at bay. I had only a few seconds’ lead on him, so every move counted, as I had no idea of his finishing ability.

On the cusp of the final switchback, the leader had fallen back significantly into second place when I last saw him with a sizable advantage. I reasoned there must have been a marshalling error; when I arrived at the switchback myself, it had moved forward by perhaps 10-15m, and when I asked the marshals what had happened ahead, they looked at me, sheepishly, and pointed me back in the direction for the finish. Was the switchback too far on the first occasion, or is it supposed to move on the second lap?

I had a 5 second or so lead on Ronnie from my calculation of him passing a fixed location. I picked up my cadence to take advantage of the fast entry and exit from the underpass with the finish only metres further away, pleased that I’d done enough to bag third place as per my prediction that morning.

I shook the hands of the first and second place boys, and also that of Ronnie and another guy that we’d briefly spoken to on the start line. First place explained that he’d been sent further than he needed to be by the marshals on the final switchback, which can only suggest that the switchback wasn’t moved over in time for the second lap; I can’t help but wonder that placing it in a spot between the lap 1 and lap 2 positions would resolve any need for it to be moved at all?

Due to my Garmin mishap earlier that morning, I largely ran blind and had to rely on Ronnie’s 19:14 to estimate my own finish. It was officially recorded to be 19:05, so I was slightly disappointed to not squeeze a little more out of myself for sub-19; without all the switchbacks, I’m confident I’d have hit 18:50. Curiously, I’d somehow been promoted upwards to second place in the official results. I was definitely given the third place token, so perhaps the first place finisher had not run the full course and merely joined in partially for a tempo run?

Post-run, we were offered bottled water and cakes, which looked to have been donated by Sainsbury’s. The lady barcode scanning was in Sainsbury’s uniform, so it’s more than likely that they were the event sponsor to help get Merthyr parkrun off the ground and started.

Here’s the partial Strava data for this run.

Next on my Welsh tourism list is either Bryn Bach parkrun or Pontypridd parkrun.

10 miles – to Usk and back

What a difference a week makes! Whereas seven days prior, the London Marathon hovered around 25°C, this particular Sunday saw the inaugural Newport Marathon struggle to get much higher than 6°C!

I’d wisely chosen to don a long sleeve top to keep the chill at bay. More than anything, it was the strong, swirling gusts of wind that took their toll – whichever direction I faced, I ran straight into it.

Somewhat expectedly, I was the only runner out that morning. Many in the local area will have either been recovering from the London Marathon, or participating in the morning’s Newport Marathon and 10k. The route looked to be great for those seeking a fast time, with the only climb of significance between miles 9 and 10, consisting of some 10m of elevation change. The rest of the course is pretty damn flat, taking the challenging of becoming the UK’s flattest road marathon.

My own run was largely uneventful, though I was certainly glad to cap it at just 10 miles in preparation for a needed taper ahead of the upcoming Shakespeare Half Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.