DK10K 2018 review

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

 

This week’s running – 9th to 22nd April 2018

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Hot enough for you?

So, how’s that heatwave treating everybody? Two weeks rolled into one, again, but we’re at least back in sync!

15 miles – to The Vale and back

Returning to the UK before 6am on a Sunday is tough. Returning to the UK after a 12 hour flight through 7 different time zones is tougher. Needless to say, the day’s 15 miles never materialised and were postponed to the following day, which I had booked off from work.

With two long runs in a single week, this resulted in a mammoth mileage total of 61 miles – topping my previous record of 60 miles back in the summer during peak marathon training. Disingenuous circumstances, yes, but you try telling that to my legs that still had to run the 61 miles…

The run itself was a bit of a shock to the system, going from the warmth of Hong Kong to barely single digit temperatures… Brightening things up for me was a chance encounter with the entire Close family with high-fives!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Accommodating a Monday long run meant shifting the rest of my week around. What should have normally occurred on a Wednesday was brought forward to Tuesday, and you get the idea.

Running through Cannon Hill Park, the place was reasonably desolate apart from British Military Fitness doing their thing. Oh, and a random weirdo who suddenly decided to walk into my path and then have a full-blown conversation with himself before and after I passed him!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles with 3 at marathon pace

I may not be training for a marathon, but marathon pace was the perfect bit of stimulus after several weeks without anything faster of note during the week.

I was incredibly pleased with the splits, and even wondered about pushing the final mile out to half marathon pace:

  1. 6:49
  2. 6:48
  3. 6:46

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 mile recovery

Thanks to a half day from work (and our first official NHS baby scan), I had the opportunity to cover this out and back to Cannon Hill Park.

The keen eyed amongst you may notice that I decided to avoid Kings Heath high street and instead utilised back streets. This was two-fold; Kings Heath high street can be awful at rush hour and a recent analysis of the pollution levels were pretty shocking, especially for those like me gulping down massive lungfuls of it as I run. I do still use the high street when it’s quieter, but no longer when it’s busy.

The park remained quiet, almost like a slumbering giant in preparation for the following week’s onslaught of premature summer weather…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Jet lag still persisted to have me waking up earlier than usual, which was no bad thing as I’m usually fighting the alarm on Saturday mornings. I’d also spent all of Friday on my feet, setting up an exhibition stand for a trade show at the NEC. Needless to say, I didn’t find this outing the easiest of parkruns. My legs felt lifeless and had no pop to them at all, so a simple sub-20 target was all I wanted and managed.

Simon and I did our usual warm-down to the Holders Lane car park when I paused a few times to greet runners I recognised. “You know everybody in Cannon Hill Park,” was Simon’s grand claim. Predictably, my response was, “I do not!” Cued up with perfect comic timing, the next people we ran past were Dave Broome and his family, who I waved and hollered out to. “Say nothing,” came my retort before Simon could get another word in! Because I’m a transparent guy, I had to later that day reveal to him that I also bumped into a fellow parkrunner who works at Gap in the Bullring…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to The Vale and back

This was pretty horrendous!

Clearly, my body was feeling the impromptu mileage spike of the week. Rather than potentialy break myself ahead of the critical spring-summer season, I scaled everything back to sit slower than 8:00 pace.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work with strides

Disappointingly, the weather system decided to lay down some ferocious headwind as I ran home from the office. Weighing up my options, I could either fartlek or just throw in some strides. The strides won and came into play whenever there was a break in the gusts.

Pleasingly, I’d correctly chosen to wear one of my lighter weight long sleeve tops to counteract the chill from the wind. As I left the office, the cleaning lady I always stop to chat with, quizzed me over how I choose what to wear when I run. I did share with her that it’s taken years of trial and error, with more victories than losses, but that when I got it wrong, I typically got it very wrong.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 recovery – to Cannon Hill Park and back

And then the heat came!

I donned a vest and a pair of shorts and headed over to Cannon Hill Park for 10k at recovery pace. For somebody that dislikes running in the heat, I have to admit that it was pretty damn pleasant! Expectedly, the park was heaving so I was glad I was only jogging with no pace target with so many bodies to avoid.

In spite of my hay fever returning, my sense of smell was turned up to 11. Ever since my recent visit to Hong Kong, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to scents and how they’ve triggered quite vivid memories in my mind to come flooding back. The smell of the freshly cut grass and warm faux-summer air reminded me of my first few parkruns at Cannon Hill, leaving me to feel particularly nostalgic about how far I’ve developed as a runner.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

There’s an on-going joke between Dave Burton and I that we’re very poor at getting our runs to time and sync together when we try and meet on the canal towpath. This struck again when Dave had planned to bump into me going in the opposite direction, yet I had decided to finish some work off in the office to have me setting off later than I normally would. We missed each other by mere minutes!

This was another warm run and I pointed out to the cleaning lady that I’d gone from a long sleeve top to a vest in only 24 hours! I did think I’d possibly not had enough to drink throughout the day and really should have taken a bottle of something with me. Thankfully, the sun was reasonably low in the sky as we’re only in April and not summer proper yet. I really do need to up my hydration game in the coming weeks or risk the consequences.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

There’s a quirk that I and several other runners experience, where the outcome of a run is inverted to the outcome of the warm-up. In other words, great warm-up equals crap run, and crap warm-up equals great run.

Jogging to Cannon Hill Park, my heart rate was a few beats higher than normal; my Garmin confirmed as much and even gave me a -3 performance condition score after only 1km at a very easy pace. I groaned and continued my way to the park.

That familiar smell of Cannon Hill was a rush to the head as I made my way to the bandstand. Unsurprisingly, everybody was in good spirits as we finally had some positive weather to accompany parkrun after seemingly months of wet and miserable conditions. Dave, bizarrely, chose to wear a long sleeve top and jogging bottoms to the park, compared to my skimpy t-shirt and shorts – I joked we looked like we were dressed for two different events!

From the line, I opted not to go with the tidal flow and remained in control. Over the few hundred metres that followed, I slowly reeled in faces I recognised whilst remaining reasonably comfortable. I surprised myself with how at ease my breathing was, especially in comparison to those immediately around me. 1km came in at 3:47 to be about where I wanted it.

I continued to feel pretty strong and with no pressure to commit to anything. Runners that had gone off too fast continued to come back to me. I found myself in a nicely sized pack of five, patiently hanging back to take advantage of their pace making to avoid exerting any more mental or physical energy than was needed. 2km clocked in at 3:50 for some minor slow down due to the climb back to the bandstand.

Going into 3km, more and more people began to tire and fall back. My pack reduced to just three; I tried my best to convince one of my cohorts to stay with me and to try and regroup with the Bournville Harrier a few metres in front. He stuck with me for a little while longer, but also faded like the rest. Nonetheless, I was able to overcome any effects of fatigue and I was actually getting faster for a split of 3:45!

I remained feeling pretty damn good. My breathing, whilst definitely working a little more than before, continued to be fully in control. The bone-dry conditions underfoot and my Streak LT3 shoes were like a match made in heaven; I had the confidence to throw my feet down and what returned was an ever increasing pace. I remained wide-eyed at what was unfolding with 4km coming in at 3:43!

My eyes darted from runner to runner ahead of me, each one eventually succumbing to my reel. Crossing over the bridge, my next targets were Gareth Gulson and Peter Blackwell – both faster than me on a typical day. But this day wasn’t just any day, for it was my day! Within seconds, I’d pulled shoulder to shoulder with them and then surged to get ahead by a few steps. Uh oh. I’d run out of runners to reel in and the next target was a good 20-30m away… I kept the effort up with the knowledge that any second, either Peter or Gareth would pull level with me again and the battle would restart. It never happened, though I was able to creep a few metres closer to the next guy in front. I switched my Garmin over to elapsed time and I could tell it was going to be close to being either side of 18:30, wholly dependent on how I handled the hill. I was maxed out and running on fumes; the controlled and measured breathing of before was long gone! Cresting the hill, I kicked with all I had left in the hope I could scrape an additional second or two.

18:36 was my official time of the morning. This became my fastest parkrun since December 2016 and my fifth fastest time at Cannon Hill. I was beaming and continue to wonder where that came from? As I said initially, crap warm-up equals great run!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to The Vale and back

With the London Marathon on the telly box, I headed out earlier than usual so that I could enjoy the coverage on a slight delay and without interruption.

The warmth persisted and I was convinced to take a water bottle with some High-Five Zero electrolytes for company. I even wore my Garmin on the opposite wrist in a bid to get rid of the awful watchstrap tan I picked up from Hong Kong…

Positive weather really does make us Brits less miserable, doesn’t it? I nodded and wished many of my fellow runners a good “morning”, and many reciprocated with an unforced response and smile.

I finished feeling pretty strong, so clearly the liquid refreshment was the right move.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

London Marathon 2018

Was this the warmest one on record, or did it rank second? It may as well have been the warmest one because my Strava feed resembles a warzone with casualties of the heat all over the place.

Congratulations to all who ran in the difficult conditions, but particularly to my fellow sub-3 hour marathon conspirator, Darryll Thomas. He sensibly chose to run to heart rate and of all the people I followed, he barely slowed at all to run a very steady race. He even achieved the amazing feat of equalling his marathon PB of 3:04:45!

Hong Kong running – 2nd to 7th April 2018

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Ah, Hong Kong. The Pearl of the Orient. Asia’s World City. Honkers.

It’d been more than 20 years since the last time I was there, so we tied it in as part of Lis’ belated 30thbirthday celebration. Naturally, I took my running shoes with me, so read on to find out how I found Hong Kong as a tourist runner.

Admiralty to Central Pier and back x 3

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Lis and I spent a lot of time around the Central district of Hong Kong Island, with it serving as a major hub to reach many other parts of the city. Strolling through the area on our first day, both of us couldn’t help but notice the large numbers of runners running up and down the promenade that leads to Central Pier. I kept my eyes peeled for potential running routes and this was one of the most accessible with minimal opportunities for me to get lost!

I returned a day later whilst Lis had a nap in the hotel. Travelling via MTR system, I felt incredibly exposed; I wore one of my skimpiest vest and shorts combos to factor in the 28°C temperature outside, but didn’t consider how high the air conditioning was turned up to!

Exiting Admiralty station, I only had a vague idea of where I needed to get to. There was an incredible amount of construction taking place, which meant certain exits and pedestrian access paths were closed off; thankfully, I successfully meandered my way to the start of my scoped out run – Tamar Park.

Tamar Park may sound grand on paper, but it was really just a collection of paths and a few patches of grass that are atypical of urban environments. Hong Kong unfortunately misses out on having a large-scale park in the vein of New York, Tokyo, London et al. Whereas Hong Kong does have plenty of country parks, they’re largely unpaved and better suited to trail runners than road runners.

One of my first thoughts when I started running towards Central Pier? “Damn. It’s hot!” 28°C along with humidity to match from the sub-tropical climate was a shock to the system; the last time I ran in such conditions was in Greece back in the summer of 2017. I had the sense to pre-load on some electrolytes back at the hotel and it was promising to see water fountains dotted around quite regularly throughout the Tamar Park section of the promenade.

I love running whilst abroad as it offers an opportunity to people watch without being too obvious. With my sunglasses on, nobody was any wiser that I was making observations like a laboratory scientist studying specimens in an experiment.

In spite of it still being incredibly warm and with the sun still high in the sky, there were dozens of runners out and about. The same held true on the previous day around 2pm when it was even warmer. Unlike Thailand, where runners only seemed to come out and play early in the morning or once dusk had settled, Hong Kongers appeared to take little notice of the conditions and simply ran when they could. I’m talking all types of runners; from seriously lean looking club runner types, to those merely out for an afternoon jog with no time or distance goal. Observing what people wore was also fascinating, with some adopting a more is more approach with long-sleeves and full-length tights (yikes and yikes), whereas others went with as little as they could legally get away with. I saw quite a few blokes running bare chested and I was tempted to join them, doing as the Romans do in Rome. Short-shorts, or split shorts, are also very much a thing in Hong Kong – they likely never went out of fashion! Many of the lean-looking male runners I saw sported them, and almost all of the sportswear stores I visited had them in plentiful supply in all sizes.

Making my way down the promenade, I had to keep my wits about me as people crossed to board or depart the timeless Star Ferry. Costing only 25p to 30p for a single ride depending on the exchange rate, it takes passengers across the water to and from Kowloon for some majestic views of the city, especially on clear days with little mist or haze. Passengers had little special awareness, which actually helped me out as it dictated that I had to be the one to take evasive manoeuvres.

I questioned myself once more if I were to be so bold to take my vest off and do as many of the locals did. There was little to no breeze that day and my only respite was the shade offered periodically by the Star Ferry terminals on the promenade.

Suddenly, all the tourists vanished and I found myself running through a much more industrial looking part of the promenade. I reached a tunnel and it was not obviously clear if there was a pedestrian footpath for me to follow, or that I could even get through to the other side. Rather than potentially end up on the evening’s local news, I decided against explorations and did a U-turn to head back to Tamar Park for another repeat. Each lap came to approximately 2km, and with a bit of faffing at the start to get back to the station, added up to 7 miles in total.

Having done a full day’s worth of sightseeing the day prior with lots of walking, my legs had seen better days. Much of the promenade was made up of hardwearing block paving – each shockwave was truly felt. My ribs and lower back were also still tender from the previous week’s go-karting shenanigans to have me falling apart at the seams…

One more lap and I was done. I had to return to the hotel via the MTR; I was thankful for the roaring air conditioning, especially as it was a rush hour train and I was incredibly self-aware of how sweaty I was, post-run…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Kowloon waterfront

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Hong Kong’s not an easy place to be a long distance runner. Hosting their own marathon in February, I have nothing but utmost respect for any Hong Konger that trains for the race with so few places to run long, undisturbed. The streets, whilst plentiful, are far from ideal for running on. Aside from being busy with other pedestrians, traffic light controlled crossings are everywhere. Hong Kong is a pretty compliant society, so the signals to cross are largely observed by most; needing to stop every 100m or so for a few minutes just isn’t practical when you’re trying to build endurance!

As much as I’d have liked to run a more imaginative route, time, accessibility and not getting lost were high on my agenda. I ended up on the other side of the water in Kowloon for a run along the other waterfont. If I had to describe Kowloon, I’d call it more traditional in comparison to Hong Kong Island. The buildings aren’t nearly as tall and there’s not quite as much polish as the more cosmopolitan Hong Kong Island.

Using the MTR, this time in morning rush hour, I travelled to Admiralty and changed lines to eventually end up at East Tsim Sha Tsui. As if by magic, I appeared exactly where I needed to be on the waterfront.

Normally, I would have been able to run through the “Avenue of Stars – monuments and statues to Hong Kong’s film and TV stars. Due to refurbishment of the general area, this section was closed off to require that I run a short stretch on pavement and jump a few traffic lights (shhhh…) before landing on the promenade proper.

There were dozens of runners out in force that morning. All shapes, sizes and ages. Normally, I’m the token Chinese guy out running and at races, so it was incredibly mind-boggling to see so many people from the same ethnic background as me out running. In a reversal of roles, I did see one sole white guy out running – we were like yin and yang, restoring balance to the universe, perhaps?

Peppered between hotels were apartment complexes – new and old. Some of the elderly residents practiced tai chi in the sun to be as clichéd Hong Kong as possible! Very gradually, the hotels disappeared, followed by the apartment complexes; in their place were more industrial-looking buildings, much like the extremities of my Hong Kong Island run.

Pace-wise, I didn’t feel like the heat affected me much at all, though this was after three whole days sightseeing in the sun for some quick acclimation. Similarly to the other side of the water, what I didn’t get on with was the very firm block paving underfoot. Adjusting my gait for a softer landing did little to offset the pounding, and with only an hour to play with, I chose to go with a simple out and back along the promenade.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Stray observations of a running man in Hong Kong

If you ever find yourself in Hong Kong and are in need of a 400m track, I’m aware of at least two for certain. I spotted the first 400m track, located at Aberdeen Sports Centre, whilst on an open-top bus tour; yes, there’s a place in Hong Kong named after a place in Scotland – go figure. The complex was open and completely free to the public. With so little space available, the Hong Kong Government have invested heavily in recreational facilities, and there were plenty of people coming and going from the 400m oval. Sadly, Aberdeen is not the easiest place to get to, with the nearest MTR station being Wong Chuk Hang and probably requiring a few line changes depending on where you’re based.

The other 400m track I’m aware of is at Wan Chai Sports Ground, and probably a lot easier to get to for most tourists, especially if staying at Wan Chai or nearby Causeway Bay. I did not see this track in person, so I can’t vouch for its accessibility – runners beware!

As an alternative to the track, I’m reliably informed the service road at the Happy Valley horse racing course is open for use by the public except on Wednesday, when horse races take place.

Finally, Victoria Park is worth looking into if you must run in a park and don’t mind covering laps. Unusually, there’s a “jogging track” within the park that’s made from the same synthetic material as a typical 400m track, except it’s not in the shape of an oval to better fit within the confines of the park. I did spot a sign requesting that the track be used for running only, though I’m told it attracts plenty of walkers that get in the way…

If you’re in need of running gear, you’re in luck as Hong Kong has no shortage of Nike and Adidas stores. Garmins, especially the high end examples like the Fenix, were also very easy to source, though the poor exchange rate and inflation means you’re unlikely to get a better deal than back here in the UK.

Well, that’s about it for my ramblings!

 

This week’s running – 19th March to 1st April 2018

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At the inaugural Great Run Local Edgbaston Reservoir event – photo by Great Run Local

Apologies, folks, for the tardy post. I’ve rolled two weeks into this single entry, with a pending post for my week away in Hong Kong to follow shortly!

5k recovery

Almost as quickly as the snow arrived on Saturday-Sunday, most of it had melted come Monday. Only a few patches of ice remained as I plodded around on my 5k route, making me shake my fist in anger at the situation – if only the snow had arrived two days earlier or later…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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

For those of you that don’t frequently use the Edgbaston tunnel on the canal towpath, you may not know that it’s been out of action for some 2 months whilst work is carried out to widen the towpath – a regular frustration with runners, cyclists and walkers and our mis-matched paces. Sadly, I have some bad news to share – the closure will overrun by another 6 or 7 weeks, due to some issue with galvanized steel being needed. Roll on late May…

Mentally, I wasn’t ready to take another lashing of 3 miles at half marathon pace in the middle of my run-commute for home. Softening it to 2 miles at marathon pace and the final mile at half marathon pace made the whole thing more bearable and achievable; 6:47, 6:44 and 6:22 came out of the other side, agreeing as much.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

It’s joyous running through Cannon Hill Park without the need for a head torch and feeling like you’re going to be robbed by somebody jumping out of every bush…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

I have a few friends who love trail and fell running and I’m always scratching my head over the amount of kit they’ll wear whilst out on a run. “Sweat kills,” is a statement I’ve oft heard bandied around, along with the need for multiple layers, especially ones that sit close to draw away any moisture.

Whether running easy or running hard, I’ve historically felt warm. Not so of late, where I’ve almost exclusively worn tights and long-sleeve tops since November, outside of racing. For the second time this year, I came to experience why sweat can be so hazardous in cold conditions. Problematically, I’d found myself in a middling effort; not slow enough to cut out sweating entirely and not fast enough to generate significant body warmth to make use of the sweat. Running into the headwind for home made for a particularly unpleasant time!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Kings Heath Running Club took the reins and provided a full roster of volunteers for the morning, including pacers. Wishing to save myself for the big effort the next day, I took advantage of Chris Callow, the 20 minute pacer.

Barring Chris moving off a little too quickly for the first half, the run was largely uneventful and by the numbers. Dave and I ran together for much of it before he burned me off in the remaining few hundred metres.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles inc Great Run Local Edgbaston Reservoir and The Vale

Whether by coincidence or design (a bit of Column A and Column B, me thinks), the new Great Run Local at Edgbaston Reservoir meant a double run, akin to the parkrun New Year’s Day doubles, was possible. As a former proud denizen of the Jewellery Quarter, I could often be found nearby at the reservoir, running laps in the pursuit of speed or bulking out a long run. Consider me pleased to see my former stomping ground play host to an event!

Dave and I were kindly driven to Edgbaston Reservoir to avoid mileage overload. Running from home to the reservoir, participating in their 5k event, running to The Vale, participating in their 5k event, then running back home would very likely see me hit 22 miles; no bad thing if marathon training, but not ideal when my longest run this year has been 15 miles.

Arriving early, we were definitely in the right place judging from the various Great Run Local direction signs there were attached to lampposts and pillars. A single lap of the reservoir served as our token warm-up but left me wanting more; the jogs from home to Cannon Hill parkrun have spoilt me! We soon identified the familiar face of Rob Dowse from BRAT and Cannon Hill parkrun, along with Carl Stainton dashing towards us on the horizon for fear of being late – he was incredibly lucky as we started almost 10 minutes behind schedule.

Assembled on the start line, it wasn’t exactly clear when the run actually started as we all jerked forward at different times. Carl took the lead as anticipated with me in second place. I’d concluded all I wanted was a sub-20 finish, factoring in the parkrun 24 hours prior and another Great Run Local only an hour later.

During our warm-up, Dave and I established that the terrain at Edgbaston Reservoir wasn’t actually as optimal for fast times as we’d nostalgically remembered. On the wooded section of the reservoir with shelter, lots of puddles had formed along with accompanying mud. Throw in plenty of dog walkers and cyclists doing their normal Sunday thing, and some careful timing and line taking was necessary. Not far behind me by some 20m was Vicky, a friend of Rob’s, to keep me on my toes.

Annoyingly, I had the pervading sensation of needing to piss. Due to the delayed start and standing around, my body had cooled down and wanted to shift the excess liquid inside me. Every few hundred metres, I would re-evaluate the situation and scope out a tree or a bush to dive behind and relieve myself! I decided to keep going…

Pace-wise, I continued to hover on the boundary of a 20:00 minute 5k and went through halfway in 9:50. Carl had pulled away for an even bigger lead whereas I was still being chased down, though had increased the gap by perhaps another 10m.

The reservoir grew even busier on the second lap with particularly nimble feet required to get through the crowded and muddy southern-most point.

Throughout all this, I still needed to piss and the temptation to stop persisted. Reaching the third but last corner, I spotted the ideal opportunity but a quick look behind me confirmed my lead wasn’t big enough to pause and piss without losing second place or a sub-20 finish. It’s all motivation, right?

Turning for the penultimate corner and I’d gained another 10m on my pursuers. The straight and paved dam wall prompted me to begin upping my cadence and surge for the finish. Crossing the line, I didn’t bother to check my time and dashed over to a secluded spot to finally relieve myself! When I did eventually check my finish time, curiously I had recorded 19:36 versus the official time of 19:42; I chalked this down to the start line confusion and the timer being prematurely activated.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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Including the top 5 from Edgbaston Reservoir, also tackling The Vale – photo by Great Run Local

Out of the 25 or so runners that partook in the inaugural Edgbaston Reservoir run, only the top 5 (Carl, me, Vicky, Dave and Rob) went on to also tackle The Vale course. We were also joined by Kings Heath Running Club and Run Birmingham member, Ian Mackenzie, as we gallivanted across the Hagley Road towards the university for another dose of 5k.

Unsurprisingly, Carl took the lead with me in pursuit once more. I was joined by Ian, which prompted me to dial down the effort and to just hang back and let him do the leading on the climbs. Whereas the pace felt perfectly serviceable for me, Ian was clearly not as relaxed as I was but continued chatting. I wondered how long he could possibly hold on for… I charged down the ascent on the other side of Mason Way and it became obvious he was nearing his limit.

With a bit of coaxing, Ian regrouped with me. Embarking on the second lap, he continued to keep up with me, both physically and conversationally. Once more, I opened up my stride on the other side of the climb and Ian drifted further and further behind me. Carl was still visible on the horizon, prompting me to begin chipping away at the distance between us.

The third lap was trickier without a companion. The sun also came out to add a few additional points on the exertion scale when it was needed least, but the pace came to me and I did indeed gradually reel Carl in. Whilst I was never going to be a challenge for him, I was able to reclaim some 15 seconds or so to further convince me that I could have, and should have, gone out harder for another sub-20.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

A warm-down with Carl and Dave, both peeling off at various points, rounded off an enjoyable, if tiring, morning.

10k recovery

Due to being away from home on a work trip to Basingstoke later that week, I opted to beef up this recovery run to avoid my mileage quota from dropping too low.

Running through Cannon Hill Park, it was a who’s who of the local running scene! I bumped into Matt Gresty, Dave Broome and Andy Young on my two laps.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Aborted run

That work trip to Basingstoke? It included a team building exercise of an endurance go-karting match towards the end of the day. I was placed into a team of 3, coincidentally including a colleague from my own office, along with a random. The random, whilst being very good and managed to set the second fastest lap of the day, had to bail after only 20 minutes into the 2 hour race. My colleague and I were forced to split the remaining 105 minutes between us, making for a pretty gruelling time. Whilst we did end up winning with a 3 lap lead on our nearest rivals, I was t-boned by a woman failing to stop in time, after I’d stopped in my tracks to avoid a pile-up in front. I was jolted from left to right and back again with no time to anticipate it, thus bruising or even fracturing a rib or two. Needless to say, I was in a lot of pain after the adrenaline of racing had worn off!

The following day, I began my run for home from the office as per usual. The first 2 miles felt perfectly fine, but then the wheels began falling off. Tightness and aches from go-karting bubbled to the surface and I knew I couldn’t complete the distance. My sights moved to perhaps reaching Selly Oak for 10k and then getting a bus for Kings Heath. Making it to 4 miles, I knew the game was up and I called it quits by catching an Uber home! I was very specific to share with the Uber driver that this was an emergency and under normal circumstances, I’d have gone all the way!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Penallta parkrun

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Me and Ben at Penallta parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Whereas the aches in my arms and legs had disappeared, my ribs were still tender. Every time I sneezed, I felt like I’d taken a blow to the chest! This subsequently caused my lower back to ache as I had to compensate for my left with my right. As such, the week became a low volume one anyway despite my best efforts…

Running resumed with the continued tourism of parkruns of South Wales, this time settling on Penallta parkrun, near Caerphilly – my 26th different event. Our friend, Ben, who’s decided to embark on the alphabet quest by visiting an event for all letters, joined Lis and me. He is aware there’s currently no event that starts with an “X”!

As parkrun grows more popular, new events that spring up become more unconventional, at times even eschewing the need to be held in a park. Whilst the Penallta event does take place in a park, the support facilities and the car park are that of the nearby council building. It was rather odd passing the morning duty security guard to use the building’s toilets; Ben and I reasoned the local council to be a big supporter of the event as a fitness initiative, which is refreshing to see when councils are so often the antagonists of parkrun.

My warm-up with Ben suggested I was capable of running without pain. Conveniently next to the start line is a map of the park, helping to facilitate the new runners briefing. Unsurprisingly for the Easter weekend, there were plenty of visiting tourists. The route takes place entirely within Penallta Park, with two switchback sections. Elevation charts online suggested there would be some significant climbing for the first mile, though our warm-up concluded it was more of a false flat than anything.

Assembled on the start line, I identified a few of the likely big dogs of the morning. Do they look lean and fast? Check. Are they wearing racing flats? Check. On the starter’s orders, they inevitably tore off.

I decided to hang back due to unfamiliarity with the course and its nuances. Going with me were a number of runners that were putting in an early sprint, so I guess some things are universal regardless of the event! As anticipated, the subtle climb was still able to shake the field up slightly to leave me in sixth, tailing the fourth and fifth place guys. I hovered on sub-20 pace, banking on the second half being faster with a downhill finish.

Approaching the first switchback, I surprised myself by being able to enter and exit it faster than the guy in front, allowing me to quickly gain on and surge past him. My next target was a youngster who began fading from an exuberant start. Realising that I would have run out of people to follow if he drifted too far backwards, I gave him a few words of encouragement to hold steady and remain with me.

Exiting the second switchback, I wrongly assumed we were to head straight and were instead sent on a sharp left for a lap of a muddy and wet path around a pond. Swift foot placement was needed to avoid sodden feet! Returning back to Bea’s Hill, I urged my comrade to stay with me, but alas, he’d reached his limit and began haemorrhaging pace. I began cruising for the finish, and would likely skim sub-20 by 10 seconds or so, when I clocked a runner behind me by no more than 30m. He was closing in so before he had any more time to make a bigger dent, I kicked things up a notch for a faster finish than originally anticipated.

I was pleased to see 19:34 flash up, especially as I went through a spate of visiting new events and failing to secure a sub-20 finish by only a few seconds.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Ben returned to be only a number of seconds outside of his PB set on a pancake flat course, so it boded well for his then upcoming half marathon. We’ve agreed to try our hand at Bryn Bach parkrun as our next spot of tourism.

14 miles inc Great Run Local The Vale

Seeing as Lis and I were due to fly out to Hong Kong only 12 hours later, I should have perhaps skipped Great Run Local, given I was still feeling pretty banged up from go-karting and the previous day’s faster than intended Penallta parkrun.

Setting out slightly later than planned, I tried to better time my warm-up run to The Vale to coincide with Dave’s. As luck would have it, I could see him in the distance from Selly Oak onwards, though my attempts to call out his name literally fell on deaf ears; this continued for another mile before Dave finally took notice!

Numbers were very low at The Vale, as one would expect for Easter Sunday. Once we finally got going, it became clear that I couldn’t muster anything more than what could be considered a slow tempo run. My ribs continued to ache and the steep ascents of the course did nothing to help.

21:36 was all I could manage; a time almost 2 minutes slower than my course best under optimal conditions and health.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The warm-down run for home allowed me and Dave to discuss a number of sites and locales in Hong Kong that I needed to consider visiting.

Congratulations

Shout outs to my friends, Ben and Vince, who both managed to PB last Sunday.

Ben, after just two half marathons, went under 2 hours for the first time with 1:50:18. It took me 6 attempts before I finally cracked 2 hours…

Vince, after just 2 marathons, went under 3 hours for 2:59:32 at the Greater Manchester Marathon.

Excellent achievements, gents!

One last thing…

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Strong legs already on this one!

So, aside from being busy with work and being away on holiday, something else has taken up a chunk of my time.

Expected mid-October, he/she was very clearly running on the spot during the ultrasound scan to be just like their old man!

This week’s running – 12th to 18th March 2018

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Brrr! It was a cold one! Photo by Geoff Hughes

*Sigh* The Beast from East returned to defy everybody’s expectations and ruin several more races…

5k fartlek

Ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing? You can only make decisions based on the knowledge available to you, and at the beginning of race week, I fully expected to be racing a half marathon. As such, I wanted a sharp taper with minimal volume and just some effort to keep things ticking over.

Here and here is the Strava data for the two fartlek runs.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Still believing/in denial about the following day’s half marathon, I volunteered as a marshal at Cannon Hill parkrun. Whereas there was no snow, there was plenty of bitingly cold wind to make standing still for the best part of an hour difficult to bear. I was paired up with volunteer newcomer, Naomi from Kings Heath Running Club, showing her the ropes of my familiar patch around the little bridge. She made for fantastic company and was a natural at marshalling; I’d be pleased to work with her again, albeit under more favourable weather conditions!

Setting up the cones, we were both caught off-guard when somebody stopped to ask us for a brief overview of the course. I described the route to him as best as I could without a map and followed up by asking if he was likely to be one of the leaders. He admitted he wouldn’t personally be in the lead, but did point out that he was with a bunch from Bud Baldero’s Uni of Birmingham group, of which some of them likely would be placing highly. I recommended they listen in on the new runners briefing for more detail. Little did I know that we would be some pretty stellar times in spite of the strong winds. Looking at the results, the top 10 finishers all came in under 17 minutes. The top 7 all finished under 16 minutes! It’s reasonable to assume that most of the unknowns in the top 10 belong to Bud Baldero’s group. It’s a thing I’ve began noticing of late that coached athletes either purposely don’t have their personal barcode scanned, or don’t have one to begin with, to evade detection or to hide from competitors.

The return of cancellations

Anticipating that the Newport Half Marathon would take a while to reschedule their cancelled race from the original 4th of March date, I thought I was ahead of the curve by entering the Coventry Half Marathon as my replacement. As it turned out, Newport’s organisers were able to mobilise incredibly quickly to announce 18th of March as their new date – the same day as Coventry. Still with me? Good. Fantastically, they offered options to please everybody, including refunds, deferrals to next year and transfers to others.

As many of us will know, the weather deteriorated as we edged closer to the new race day. Many races heeded the advice of UKA and the amber weather warnings from meteorological offices. Coventry, Newport, Ashby and many others declared themselves out on Friday-Saturday. I was desperate for a chance to race, so my attention was drawn to the Wilmslow Half Marathon bravely ploughing on despite everybody else folding. Transfer place acquired, I played the waiting game and around 05:30 on race morning, they finally conceded defeat and bowed out like most other races (Reading, too). That’s four races since December that I’ve had cancel on me from a previous zero since I began racing in 2010!

I can only do the taper-dance so many times before it starts hitting my overall fitness and sharpness levels, so I’ve pretty much admitted defeat. Wishing to knuckle down and refocus, I’ve opted to tackle the Shakespeare Half Marathon on 13th of May. Early May also sees two 10k races in quick succession to serve as half marathon race pace sessions. Maybe this outcome isn’t so bad, after all?

Imaginary Newport/Coventry/Wilmslow Half Marathon

Somewhat dejected, I was in two minds about sacking Sunday’s run entirely. I convinced myself that I should head out, if only to burn some of the calories that I’d been loading up on in preparation for races that would not be.

The snow underfoot was still pretty fresh, especially in the lesser travelled sections of my route. Concerning my route, I was in no mood to be measuring splits so I just made things up as I went along! The net result was almost like a greatest hits of the familiar stretches I cover, all stitched together like some kind of tapestry.

I witnessed some pretty shoddy driving whilst I was out and about. On the Yardley Wood Road, one lady poorly anticipated the lights turning red; she blipped her brakes a little too hard, resulting in her car spinning 270° whilst oncoming traffic approached!

Fingers crossed we’re out of it now, though I’m sure that’s what we all said a fortnight ago…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

This week’s running – 5th to 11th March 2018

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How embarassing! Guess we didn’t get the memo… Photo by Dave Duncan Williams

One big over-reaching week before tapering, again…

11 miles from work with 3 at half marathon pace

With the Coventry Half Marathon the following week, and suffering from tapering for a race that didn’t happen, I opted for a few days of over-reaching in a last minute attempt to squeeze the last few drops of training potential from my body.

Conditions turned out to be pretty damn favourable on Tuesday evening with little to get in the way of my planned miles at pace. Whereas I’d packed tights, shorts were the logical choice for the return to March temperature normality. The positive conditions had me feeling good, especially after a faux taper week and no recovery 5k the evening prior; I was surprised to see my pace sitting firmly in the 7s after an equally unexpected, faster than usual, opening mile.

The planned three miles at circa-half marathon pace (6:20 to 6:25) were daunting, to say the least. It’s a pace I frequently cover at parkrun with little difficulty, but that’s with other people around to work off and follow. Once at pace, I almost instantly regretted my decision and the effort quickly escalated to something that felt incredibly unnatural to me. I began willing my Garmin to signal the end of the first mile, but was pleasantly surprised to see 6:26 for the split. Fully warmed up, I anticipated the second mile would drift to 6:18 as it’s historically done over the past few months, but nope – it sat steady at 6:28 and didn’t want to budge. The effort continued climbing and I felt like I was in the second half of a 10k rather than the second split at half marathon pace! I came so close to ending the pace work after 2 miles, but the monkey on my shoulder screeched away at me to keep going for all 3 miles. I reluctantly obeyed my imaginary simian-friend… In spite of giving it everything I had, steady 6:27 pace was all I could muster whilst trying to keep feelings of nausea down. The relief I felt when my Garmin beeped to signal the end was incredible! I slowed to a jog as I gasped for huge lungfuls of air.

Not entirely satisfied with what I’d been through, I then opted to bulk up the route for home by adding on additional distance for 11 miles in total. Guess I wanted to be sure I was genuinely over-reaching!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles run-commute

What a pleasant evening Wednesday was! As the nights grow shorter, I was able to get away with not wearing my headtorch as it only became dark once I was a few streets away from home. I’ll probably be able to do away with it entirely by April.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

After several weeks of feeling good on runs from the office, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had one that felt off. Whereas the pace was still one of my faster runs after work, the sensation of running straight into headwind for almost the entire duration kept my spirits low; I cursed every time a strong gust slammed into me! Further adding insult to injury, the wind robbed me of body heat to leave me feeling cold and listless.

Be careful what you wish for, Mr Yu…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Traditionally, I like to fit a fast parkrun into the week before a big target race, where I find the effort helps to wake up any slumbering speed inside me. Equally, I was told recently that I should, “make hay when the sun is shining;” I know full well the disappointment of not seizing the moment when it presents itself, only to then ponder when the next occasion would appear.

Jogging over to Cannon Hill, it was near impossible to believe that the event was cancelled due to snow only a week prior. Adding to the incredulity was the amped up temperature for the morning; I was sweating profusely in my long-sleeve top and jogging bottoms once I’d reached the park bandstand.

From the line, I went out hard. I felt alive and allowed myself to get drawn along by the swift Kings Heath Running Club member that remained just a few steps ahead of me. I did raise an eyebrow periodically as I glanced at my Garmin displaying a pace in the 3:30s… The opening km settled on 3:37.

With a climb in the second km, I lost 10 seconds or so but continued to draft behind the Kings Heath runner. My breathing grew more audible and laboured as the effort ratcheted upwards. 3:47 for 2km.

I began crashing at 3km as we became more exposed to the headwind. The freshness was long gone and I was still only halfway at an experimental effort that I came to realise was unsustainable. The rot made itself known with a 3:57 split.

Reaching the triangle for the turnaround, the brief but not insignificant slow-down killed any chance of recovering any speed I had in mind. Exiting the narrow path, it was not long before I was overtaken by several including Andy Young. He gave me some encouragement to latch on to him, but it was to no avail and I could not generate any more from my lactic acid-saturated legs. At least I managed to steady the ship for a 3:58 4th km!

With the final km remaining, I had no appetite left to push any harder because I was certain to go under 19 minutes. Just in case there were any residual hunger pangs left, the final km of the Cannon Hill course is another speed-killer, further dampening any remaining desire to speed up towards that hairpin turn and final climb. 18:49 was my spoil for the morning; conclusion: I’d somehow equalled my fastest 5k in 18 months, set several weeks ago, but with far more effort and less comfort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The morning took an unexpected turn as Dave and I jogged over to the Mac to meet Simon for a coffee.

Whilst chatting away, I clocked a dog jumping into the lake in the middle of Cannon Hill Park for a swim. The mother, with her young son on a bike and another dog on a lead, went over to the water’s edge in a bid to coax the rogue dog back to shore. The next thing Dave and I knew, the kid had ridden straight into the water!

We dashed over to help. The mother was in a blind panic, unsure of who or what to rescue first. I calmed her down and helped pull her crying son out of the water, then the bike, with the dog taking care of itself.

The kid was clearly distraught, crying and coughing up water, but otherwise OK. Whereas the dog on the lead remained with us, the other dog had run off into the park; I tasked Dave to retrieve it, whilst I got the mother and son into the Mac’s first aid room. A fellow runner had spotted the incident and alerted the Mac beforehand, so they were prepared for the kid’s arrival with towels, space blankets and heaters. Less encouraging was the jobsworth site manager, who insisted that the dog on a lead be tied up outside irrespective of the situation unfolding! Returning outside with the dog, Dave returned with the other one that triggered all of this only to release him too soon… We gave chase again – all that was missing was some Benny Hill music! Thankfully, we got hold of him again pretty quickly and tied him up before he could cause any more havoc.

Debriefing with Simon, he couldn’t quite believe our tall tale from that morning. Naturally, many references to Baywatch accompanied our coffees.

15 miles including Great Run Local – The Vale

On paper, I’m not so sure a long run with 5k of target half marathon pace work was necessarily the wisest choice the day after a race effort parkrun, but if that’s what I had to do to over-reach, then that’s what I had to do…

Trotting over to The Vale along the canal towpath, I came to regret my clothing choice very quickly for the warmth and sun came out to play. The positive conditions brought many others out, some no doubt making up for the previous week’s white-out.

Reaching The Vale and re-grouping with Dave, we quickly set about identifying who the big dogs of the morning were likely to be. There was one swift looking student, adorned in a Birmingham University track t-shirt. Two other speedy looking students were likely to vie for the podium, so at least I was likely to have company in my pursuit of pace and a sub-20 finish.

As anticipated, the guy in the Birmingham University track t-shirt hared off whilst I remained with the other two guys. As we gave chase, our positions chopped and changed, though I mainly stayed back to take advantage of their draft assistance. Hitting the hill for the first time, I continued to be patient having learned from a previous outing that the best strategy is to drop down a few gears and remain steady on the climb, taking advantage of the steep descent on the other side. Surprising myself, I was able to keep up on the downhill with the other two guys as we entered lap 2. The ground was bone dry, convincing me to give it even more on the next lap’s descent.

The pace continued to feel about right for a sub-20 finish and translated well into my target half marathon pace. Three became two as one member of the group dropped back. Nearing the hill for the second time, I could see we were gradually chipping away at the distance between us and the lead guy. I asked the other chap if he felt we could reel him in; breathing laboured, he gasped, “No”. Moments later, the lead guy stopped and pulled over off the course! My companion changed his tune and gasped, “Yes” for perfect comedic timing. Checking if the lead guy was OK, his breathing was effortless and he ushered us to continue. I took advantage of the situation and upped my cadence ever so slightly to gain a small lead on my companion, who had suddenly become my opponent. Reaching the brow of the hill on Mason Way, I took a quick glance to my right and I’d gained around 10m. I threw myself down the hill on the other side to create an even larger margin between us, bounding from step to step to minimise any slowdown from my high cadence.

Entering lap 3, I began encountering lapped runners from both the 2km and 5km courses. The gap between me and my pursuer had increased again to some 20m and was likely to grow again as I approached the Mason Way hill for the final time. A strained look formed on my face, with the marshal at the top of the climb offering me some relief and encouragement to keep digging to the end. Another glance to my right and I easily had in excess of 30m to my advantage, though I was still not deterred to hurl myself down the hill one last time.

Reaching the bottom, I was disappointed to learn from the marshal that we had to negotiate the hairpin turn once more. Returning to the lake, my Garmin registered a time in the 17:30s; I was confident I could pick things up to cover one last lap of the lake and still go under 20 minutes with change to spare. Mentally, it was difficult to pass the finish line only to keep going. Thankfully, I had the opportunity of a first place win and a sub-20 finish to keep the pressure applied and coax more out of myself! End in sight, I took one final glance behind me and I had around 50m on the next guy, though I still kicked for the line to finish the job properly.

Hunched over and hands on my knees, I gulped down fresh air. Whereas the previous day’s parkrun provided seemingly little in terms of fitness feedback, checking my Garmin revealed a 19:40 finish and that all my training had come good; my previous best on The Vale course was 20:09, so I absolutely have to take no prisoners at the upcoming Coventry Half Marathon based on this. I cheered the next guy in, who I was surprised to see had come back from fourth place when I last left him. Next back in was Dave, finishing in third place, once again, but pleased with his performance having chosen to race it tactically.

Jogging for home with Dave, we took things nice and slow given what we’d been through on both mornings of the weekend. That and I had another 5.5 miles to cover, feeling quite hungry and tired…

Here’s the Strava data for this Great Run Local.

This week’s running – 26th February to 4th March 2018

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Oops! Wrong Beast from the East!

Gah. The Beast from the East left a trail of destruction and calamity in its wake.

Duisburg 5k tempo

It was that time of the year again where work saw me in Germany to exhibit at a retail technology trade show. A ghastly 06:05 Sunday flight from Birmingham to Amsterdam Schipol to Dusseldorf meant I was knackered before I’d even done any work. Whilst on the flight, I was amazed by the number of 400m tracks I could see from the air and reasoned that, like the US, most schools likely have their own on site.

A fun German running fact for you: the founder of Adidas is the brother of Puma’s founder.

At this point in the week (Monday), I had little to no doubt that I would be toeing up on the startline of the Newport Half Marathon; I wanted an easy taper and this 5k tempo around the streets of Duisburg was my only planned dose of speed in the lead up to the race.

Early signs of the Beast from the East struck Duisburg, leaving me wondering what I was doing in sub-zero temperatures. Leaving the hotel, I had the choice of going left or right on my planned loop; I chose badly and went left, straight into the headwind, which persisted for much of the loop… Each time I passed the same guy on the main street, I could see him looking at me in despair! One of the few things that made finishing more bearable was the thought of the hot power shower in my room and the breakfast buffet waiting for me.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles run-commute

Damn. The cold temperatures and biting wind followed me home from Germany…

Running on Pershore Road, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of anything. On almost any given day, I can expect to be hit by winds from the south; turning east towards Cannon Hill Park – ah, that’s where the wind was hiding!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Snowy 10k – to Cannon Hill Park and back

Shattered from my several days in Germany and then straight back into the office, I opted to take Friday off in a bid to freshen up ahead of Sunday’s Newport Half Marathon. Except the dreaded Beast from the East had other plans and dumped a whole load of snow across the nation. This was enough to cancel not only my target race, but also the Bath Half Marathon and the Warwick Half Marathon. The only races to survive were the Cambridge Half Marathon and the Big Half in London. I was kicking myself because I’d seriously considered the Big Half, and even had a Good For Age place that I’d chosen not to take up. Rubbing salt into my open wound, the Big Half also turned out to be one helluva fast race; my buddy, Ian Saunders, who kept me company for much of the 2017 Yorkshire Marathon, went on to run a blistering breakout performance of 80:39 (congrats!)

Full of energy from a light week, I headed out in the snow to Cannon Hill Park for 10k. The worst of the snow had not dropped just yet, so it was rather odd to see long stretches in the park with no snow at all, and then long stretches, several inches deep. Conditions only worsened as Friday rolled into Saturday…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

8 miles inc Freedom Cannon Hill parkrun

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The two Andy Ys at Cannon Hill Park – photo by Andy Young

With no race for me to attend on Sunday, I was on the lookout for at least a parkrun to visit. No such luck, either, as it was a complete cancellation blanket for the West Midlands. Rather than waste the morning, I still made my way to Cannon Hill Park in the hope that a few die-hards would also be looking to cover a freedom run on the course.

Getting to the park was challenging, as the snow on the pavements had been churned up quite badly. Once I was in the park, things got easier but I still felt like my shoes were at their limit on occasion; they’re just trail race shoes, so feature a lot less traction than something more purpose-built. Completing one lap of the park and with few other souls about, I was about to wrap things up and head for home when I bumped into the other Andy Y – Andy Young! We had the same idea and got right to it.

We discussed the cancellations of the region, both unequivocally agreeing that it was the right thing to do. Whereas we’d both ran in several of the snowed-out Cannon Hill events of 2013, the parkrun landscape was very different back then; anybody who ran in the snow was likely better able to handle themselves and probably had appropriate kit, whereas nowadays, the field is so varied and diverse that a much more holistic view to safety needs considering.

Upon finishing, I declared myself ready to head back for home, whereas Andy Young opted to get another 5k in to work up to half marathon distance for the morning!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 snowy-slushy miles – to The Vale and back

Eugh. Now that was hard work! The Beast from the East finally departed our shores and temperatures began returning to normal, meaning I had snow and slush to contend with.

I wore my trail shoes again, but anybody that owns trail shoes will know how jarring they can be for running on the road and pavement. And that was a regular occurrence, as I found myself moving from pavement to snow to slush and back again… Slush turned out to be the most difficult terrain to run through, as it absorbed my energy and soaked my shoes for added weight.

I’m hopeful majority of the remaining snow will have cleared by the middle of next week, returning conditions to normal for March. Unsure of when the postponed Newport Half Marathon will be rescheduled for, I duly entered the Coventry Half Marathon for 18th of March in a desperate bid to try and capture and benchmark some of this newfound fitness. Let this be a lesson for everybody that when you’re feeling good on race day, capitalise on it as you never know what might step in your way!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 19th to 25th February 2018

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That’s a lot of Saturdays without lie-ins – photo by Lis Yu

1,250km later, I finally joined the parkrun 250 club!

5k recovery

Slow, slow, slow was the order of the evening! My calves were like bullets, even with judicious massage the previous day and whenever the working day allowed.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work 2 at half marathon pace

For the first time in a long time, conditions were largely in favour of me getting some faster paced work in along the canal towpath. Even with the beginnings of the Beast from the East, I suspected I would struggle with the opening split, so I threw in a purposely faster than usual mile in beforehand in an attempt to better warm my legs up. Sadly, it turned out even worse than the previous week for 6:39 (target of 6:23-6:25), which is actually closer to my marathon pace! With the shoddy split out of the way and all cylinders firing correctly, I brought it all back home for 6:18.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I used this easy paced run to break in a box fresh pair of Nike Pegasus 32 in – the very pair that I luckily found in the Nike Factory Store at Gloucester Quays Outlet. They felt perfect and actually needed no attention, unlike the awful Pegasus 34 I tried switching to. It’s often tricky to tell just how knackered shoes are until you lace up a new identical pair – it was like night and day!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

It’s been refreshing to leave the office on my runs in the company of daylight, albeit only for some 20 minutes or so before I have to switch my head torch on.

Turning the corner on Gas Street Basin, I glanced at the water and could see it being swept in the same direction of travel as me. I audibly let out a cheer of “Yes!” when I was met with a tailwind, and not the atypical headwind that so often derails these runs. I took advantage of the assist by cranking the speed up marginally and extending the run out to 11 miles from the usual 9.7. Travelling to Germany for business on Sunday, I wanted to get one final double-digit length run in ahead of tapering for the Newport Half Marathon the following week. I felt fantastic at the end and partially regretted not adding the entire recovery 5k loop on for 13.1 miles.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun – my 250th!

Well, folks – I finally made it to 250 parkruns! If we’re going to be picky, it was actually my 251st as I once forgot my barcode; I’ve not made that mistake again since as I now have spares stashed everywhere, just in case!

Rather than wax lyrical about my 250th run (here’s the Strava data for this run), I’m instead going to share how it all started on Christmas Eve of 2011. I Googled for 5k races in Birmingham and Cannon Hill parkrun appeared at the top of the rankings; I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading for it sounded like weekly-organised 5k races that were free to attend! Not being entirely sure of what to expect, I went along with printed barcode in hand and ran my heart out, finishing in 25:30 and 114th place out of 180. The bug took a while to catch and it was almost 2 months later before I returned to Cannon Hill parkrun, finishing even slower than my initial outing with 25:50… It was another 2 months until I returned once again, and the trend of finishing even slower than before continued, this time with 26:12. Reasoning that if I ran every week, my times could only improve; 2 weeks later, I went back for more and improved by almost 2 minutes for 24:19. The rest is history, as they say! Onwards to the 500 club…

This week’s running – 12th to 18th February 2018

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Can you guess the parkrun event?

A normal week of training felt like a novelty after several weeks racing.

5k recovery

My glutes and calves were trashed after the previous day’s Draycote Water 10k. I did question whether a complete day of rest would yield more benefit than 5k at an easy pace, but routine won out in the end. A colleague who’s just getting into running asked me if he should consider recovery runs; my answer to him was that he should stick to his 3-4 runs a week and to only consider recovery runs once he sees his times plateau.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with 2 at half marathon pace

It’d been weeks since I last committed to some set distance at pace in training. Strong winds and sideways rain just hadn’t been conducive to more structured stuff, paving the way for my recent flings with fartlek.

Almost like something out of Groundhog Day, the first mile came in at 6:34 just like the last time. Nothing I did could coax any more speed from my legs to hit the 6:23 target. Continuing the Groundhog Day theme, the second mile then came in at 6:17 pace – exactly the same as previous sessions! Whilst it was disappointing to see no perceivable improvement, it was also positive to see there’d been nothing lost, either.

Interestingly, my Garmin 935 optically tracked my heart rate to be pretty damn near perfect, almost like I was wearing a chest strap. It tracks easy and steady runs with no issue, but tends to trip over itself when more vigorous effort is involved. The only thing that’s changed is a recent software update that claims to have addressed reliability – I guess Garmin wasn’t lying!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Boy, was this unpleasant running the entire way into 15mph headwind. At least I was only going at recovery pace, running as easy as I cared to.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

The strides continued to work their magic on my glutes, keeping them activated and increasing feelings of how tuned into my own body I was.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Walsall Arboretum parkrun

Hallelujah! A Saturday morning that wasn’t a complete washout! With better than typical conditions available, I took Dave with me to the swift Walsall Arboretum parkrun – home to my 18 month old 5k PB.

Warming up on the course, I’d forgotten how conducive to fast running Walsall Arboretum could be. The ground underfoot is well paved, grippy and consistent to allow for big efforts with confidence. The course is also pretty damn flat, making even pacing incredibly easy over its three laps. Distance accuracy is a little dubious, but a few GPS black spots more than answer that problem.

The run started off blisteringly fast as was to be expected – I registered 3:18 per km pace at a few points! I reined things in a little for fear of a serious blowout later, though wound up separated from the larger group ahead and stuck with several more transient runners. My body and legs were tired from several weeks with a race or race-effort parkrun, and the late Friday night certainly did not help.

I began lapping runners about halfway through the second lap, with a number of them lending me their support. 3km was my slowest of the morning at 4:01, though not too unusual with my fastest runs showing a similar ‘float’ middle split serving as minor recovery. Not the end of the world, considering I ran largely alone for near-2km.

Entering the third lap, I felt like throwing up! The effort inside me began boiling over as I released a few whimpers of pain… The run director made specific mention of runners keeping to the left to allow for overtaking on the right. Almost everybody I encountered obeyed this rule except one, who decided to park herself firmly on the right of the narrow path; not wanting to collide with her, I hollered, “Keep left! Keep left!” My cries fell on deaf ears as she swerved all over the course, forcing me to surge with an undertaking manoeuvre when the opportunity presented itself.

Close to blowing, my choo-choo train impression reared its head with perhaps 800m remaining. A few more friendly runners encouraged me on, clearly having heard my huffing and puffing from behind them.

Even with all that exertion, I was disappointed to find I only managed 18:56. Dave was beaming to have run his fastest 5k in 6 months, also waxing lyrical about how optimal the Walsall Arboretum course is for fast running. So impressed was he that we’ve agreed to return to the venue for an entire month some time in the spring, in the hope that one of the four or five attempts will click into place and produce the goods. It was a nice change of scenery and the event straddled that fine line between being a larger event whilst maintaining a small event community feel.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to the Vale and back

It’d been almost a month since I last covered 15 miles, and my legs felt it especially after the raced parkrun 24 hours prior.

With the St James Road tunnel closed to widen the towpath, I had to bulk up the distance with two laps of Kings Heath Park. Everybody and their dog were seemingly out at the same time on that Sunday morning, with some canine owners more courteous than others. I was glad to be out of there ASAP!

Heading up Fordhouse Lane for the return to Kings Heath, I noticed a fellow runner joining the hill from the opposite side to me. He had some speed to him as we climbed, always drifting into the corner of my eye; not wanting to be left behind and fully warmed up, I opted to inadvertently race him as we tackled the ascent on different sides of the road. He pulled away as the road banked left and I regained the advantage as it banked right. Even with a zebra road crossing, I managed to just pip him to the brow of the Fordhouse Lane climb. I may have won the battle, but he won the war as he crept away on the flat and I had no more gears to shift into. I had hoped to see him on the Strava Flyby, but no such luck…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.