Draycote Water 10k February 2018 review

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Windy when flat and undulating when not windy…

10k season is normally late spring through to the early summer for me, so how would I fare during one in February with no recent practice? Read on to find out…

Pre-race

In a bid to throw everything including the kitchen sink at the upcoming Newport Half Marathon, I entered the February edition of the Draycote Water 10k Series of races for some further pace and race preparation. Historically since 2015, I’ve always struggled to better January’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon until the autumn rolls around; I want to reverse that trend and expectation, especially as the Newport course is not nearly as flat, nor will it be nearly as well attended so some additional work will be required. Dave Burton also tagged along on this outing, citing that he hadn’t raced in a long while and also wanted to address that.

After the previous week’s win at the Stoneleigh Park Reindeer Run 20k, confidence was incredibly high whilst also factoring in the PB near-miss from back in November. Unfortunately, I managed to pick up a mild cold at the beginning of race week! Truth be told, I more than expected it as I’d been hitting both volume and intensity for a number of weeks without any cutback, so it was simply my body rebelling and crying for attention. Thankfully, the cold shifted as quickly as it arrived and I felt right as rain once more come race morning.

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Runners on the out leg of the switchback – photo by Lis Yu

Getting to the Draycote Water reservoir was pretty simple from South Birmingham; for Lis, our chauffer, it was pretty much her daily work commute! Arriving at the venue with 45 minutes to spare, we were met not by a queue to park but rather a queue to pay for parking! There were only so many ticket machines and with some 400 participants, it was what runners trying to remain calm did not want! Thankfully, we had Lis who kindly stood in the ticket queue for 15 minutes so that Dave and I could grab our bibs and visit the toilets before those queues grew as well, due to there simply being too few of everything on site. I really felt for runners that were on their own! It’s understandable why race organisers like using ready-made venues like leisure centres or similar to stage races, but they’re simply not suited to hundreds of runners and spectators arriving en-masse over the space of an hour. What would have been ideal would be several temporary portaloos to relieve the strain from the permanent toilets, and runners being exempt from parking charges or at least pre-paid parking via some sort of agreement between the race organisers and the venue management.

Dave and I thought we’d gotten away with murder on the out leg of our warm-up jog. Everything felt easy and relaxed, and then we turned around… BOOM! We faced the full fury of the strong winds (estimated to be 15mph) from the west! My outlook for the morning remained the same as before, even if the PB wasn’t going to come without a fight.

Toed up at the start line, I suddenly felt very self-conscious wearing even less than a week ago… There were just a select few brave enough to wear vests and shorts, though I did have to fall back and stick a pair of gloves on. Thankfully being huddled close with my peers, and without too much of a wait, we got running pretty swiftly on the sound of the hooter.

The race

One lap of the reservoir is almost exactly 5 miles, so we were sent north-east for a 2km out-and-back stretch. As anticipated with fresh legs from several days without running, the first km felt rather effortless and I found myself having to rein my pace in several times – 3:3X was not uncommon on a few occasions! The wind was also on the side of us runners, though its effects were hardly felt as is usually always the case with a tailwind. The first km came in for 3:48.

Rounding that bollard for the return – wowza! The wind that hit my face made achieving that Elvis impression that bit easier! Thankfully, a timely surge allowed me to take some minor shelter from the headwind via a small group of runners, including a rather tall bloke and the lead woman. Dave, Lis and I discussed the reservoir being the home of a local sailing club, so I can’t say I should’ve been surprised by the ferocity of the wind! Lis overheard a conversation, where a regular at the race series cited it’s rarely ever calm at the site. 2km clocked in at 3:50 to still be on it for PB pace.

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Into the wind! Photo by Lis Yu

Returning back to the visitor’s centre, we began our clockwise lap of the reservoir and were introduced to the first climb of the day. In isolation, it would be perfectly manageable, but facing strong winds at pace and it was a whole different story. The group I ran with suddenly fell apart and couldn’t maintain the momentum up the hill so I was left in no-man’s land to face the wind alone, destroying my pace to leave it at just 4:00 for the third km.

As I did before, I made a tactical decision to surge to a group ahead for some respite from the battering I received. Rolling undulations struck and I sensed the group was at its limit on that pace; every time we went up, I pulled away and I would hope they would catch up to me on the down. Before too long, they stopped pulling alongside me to leave me on my lonesome again. My pace was left in worse tatters than before for the slowest km split of the morning for 4:03. There was at least a friendly trio of women out running on the upper level to cheer me on, so the slowest split wasn’t entirely joyless!

Turning north and out of the strong gusts of wind, I breathed a sigh of relief and shared my delight with a fellow runner that I’d thankfully come into contact with. He’d pulled away from me early on from the start, but had settled into a reasonably stable pace and we likely had similar abilities, otherwise he’d have been part of the large group that was some 150m further ahead. Wearing a jacket around his waist, I wondered how much faster he could have been without the makeshift sail slowing him down. Having somebody to work with once more, I was back in business with 3:53 and reached halfway in 19:37. Some serious work lay ahead of me in the second half to reverse some of the damage… Easier said than done!

6km featured a not insignificant climb to further rob me of yet more time. Even with throwing myself down the descent on the other side, it wasn’t enough and my fragile pace continued slowing to 4:01 for the split. The sole water station for the race appeared during this secluded section, which I chose to pass by and take nothing on.

Out of nowhere, a runner in a charity vest stormed past me and the other guy in front of me. The sudden appearance of this mystery athlete with so much power to his stride shook both of us up and we began our pursuit in a bid to latch on for a brief tow. Brief it was, for it lasted just a few seconds before neither of us could hold on anymore! He continued to pull away into the distance and I reasoned he must’ve adopted an easy first half to be able to zip away in such a manner. 7km came in for 3:53.

As the morning drew on, the sleepy reservoir began waking up and I encountered more and more members of the public using the venue for their Sunday activities. There were, of course, cyclists, walkers and fellow runners not participating in the race. There were also bird photographers with ginormous cameras and lenses, and no sense of how to walk straight, causing the other runner and I to take evasive sidesteps to avoid catastrophe. My pace returned to 3:50 for my joint-second fastest split of the morning, and the final time I would be out of the wind…

Turning the corner for the final 2km, I squared off with my nemesis once more. I glanced at my Garmin for the elapsed time and reasoned the remainder of the race at 3:45 average pace would get me within striking distance of my 38:45 PB, and a kick at the end may nab me a few additional seconds. The wind had other ideas! Leaning into it and pumping my arms with authority, strong gusts nullified any semblance of finishing power I had in my arsenal. I only had the other runner ahead of me by some 5-10m to keep pulling me along for feedback that I wasn’t slowing. Disapprovingly, I couldn’t generate any more than 3:55 for the penultimate split.

Whilst I knew I would comfortably finish in under 40 minutes, that wasn’t enough for me especially as my 10k PB dated back to June 2016. I threw everything into finishing as strongly as possible, but the kick did not come. I felt like I was towing a rubber tyre behind me whilst also wearing shoes lined with lead – that’s how heavy I felt! The finish line was non-distinct and only the crowd milling around the area gave me any indication of its location on the horizon. The large group appeared to have just gone through, so I possibly had another minute or so remaining. The other guy, amazingly, still had his jacket tied around his waist but began slipping from the pace. Sensing that he probably had a little something left, a spectating woman confirmed as much and gave me indication that he was ramping back up for one final kick; I took her warning on board and threw down one final surge for the line. To give you an idea of how strong the wind was, you all know by now that I love to have a fast final split with a big kick at the end. The closing pace for the final km was just 3:59 through no lack of trying!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

I gasped for air as I finished in front of Lis, hunched over with hands on my thighs and a strong feeling of nausea bubbling away. Thankfully everything was under control and recovery was reasonably swift, aided by a few choice curse words. I had 39:19 based on gun time, which I deemed to be pretty damn close to my own chip time given I was just one row away from the start line. We cheered Dave back in, who looked strong and pleased with his morning’s performance of 41:39.

Just before departing, I caught in the corner of my eye the runner in the charity vest that stormed away. I went over to congratulate him on a strong run, where he revealed he’s normally a high 37 minute runner, but he and several club mates had arrived late to start right from the back.

Goodie bag-wise, the spoils weren’t bad at all. A decent medal, a protein recovery shake, some water, chocolate, Haribo and the choice of a hat or some fleece ear warmers! A final nice touch from the organisers was the provision of on the spot printing of your race gun time, chip time, position and more. I’m aware of this at some triathlon events, but it was my first experience of such a facility at a running event. Normally if lucky, runners are directed towards a laptop to view the live results.

Debriefing with Dave and Lis over lunch, I shared my thoughts of the race. Whereas I was glad to have dipped my toe into the oft-heard of Draycote Water 10k series, I’m not sure I would likely return outside of the need for a 10k race for pace practice. When it was flat, the wind was ferocious and when the wind wasn’t blowing, the course undulated, and that seems to be the norm. The single lap of the reservoir course made the race feel arduously long and hid any sense of progress. Guess I’ll have to wait until May, June or July for better conditions and my next attempt at a 10k PB…

 

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Conductive Education 10k 2017 review

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Just a few hundred metres left – photo by Yvonne Morgan

For the 2016 race, please click the following:

Second outing for me and second ever 10k for Lis at this gem of a local race.

Pre-race

I’d heard of this race for several years from friends, but only took notice of it and first participated a year ago. Run almost entirely within Cannon Hill Park, the route naturally shares several similarities with the various parkrun courses of yore, so will be quite familiar to many. Naturally, there were many, many faces from the local running community, both participating and volunteering. Lis continued her focus on 10k events and also signed up, with her parents in tow to spectate.

It’s a charming little race, with the proceeds going to the NICE charity, helping children with movement disorders.

A year prior, I ran this race feeling like I’d barely worked. I was in much better all-round then, with results proving as much. From 5k up to the marathon, I felt like I could put out respectable performances without too much forewarning, such was the magnitude of the training improving all of my energy systems and paces. Recent parkruns have felt tricky, with a distinct difficulty in moving up to and staying in higher gears. A morning’s target of simply finishing in under 40 minutes was fine by me! My race strategy? Just dip under 20 minutes for the first half and race the second half like a 5k. Speaking with Chris Callow beforehand, he too sought after a sub-40 finish, not having done so since 2016’s Telford 10k, which I’d so miserably DNFd at.

The race

I’ve not done many races with fast downhill starts, so the novelty has yet to wear thin. Expectedly, everybody went bananas and used the advantage to bank a few valuable seconds early on. Once the course flattened out, I had to do a double take when I saw 3:29 per km pace being covered! I shared with Chris that I was dropping the anchors to pull back a touch, getting back on my plan of covering the first half of the race in just shy of 20 minutes. The 1st km with its generous descent came in for 3:50.

So early on in the race, there were plenty of people around me to run alongside, and coupled with my consciously scaled back pace, it all felt rather effortless. The next 2km were coasted along at 4:05 and 4:01 pace as the race took runners to the furthest point of the course.

My ability to negotiate switchbacks had not improved, especially when it involves running around a bollard! Even at a more controlled pace, I ended up grabbing the bollard with both hands to swing myself around in an attempt to not lose too much momentum for the return. Whilst my switchback talents left little to be desired, it seemed everybody else’s ahead of me was worse, because I found myself closing in on a few that had escaped me earlier.

With such a narrow path back into the main park, everybody was forced to run no more than two abreast in both directions, making for quite a useful slipstream for me to take shelter from the gusts that blew. Feedback from the other side from Neil Muir and Lis indicated I was roughly in 15th place. As the group I was following slowed and splintered, I began to move from runner to runner, resulting in a not un-welcome uptick in pace to pave the way for a 3:53 4th km. Unexpectedly, I was tailing Zack Minchin, who I hadn’t seen at Cannon Hill for months. He proved to be a reliable pacer, dragging me to halfway with a 3:51 split and 19:43 for 5km.

When those around me tired, I continued to jump from runner to runner to keep the pace from dropping too much. By my estimations, I’d moved up to 12th or 13th; placing in the top 10 was another goal alongside finishing in under 40 minutes.

With the course somewhat slick from prior rainwater, I struggled to maintain traction on a number of the tight twists and turns that were thrown my way, especially as fatigue mounted. Wearing the Nike Streak LT3 racing flats certainly required nimble feet that morning as I nearly discovered their limits a few times! 6km came in at 3:55.

Back on the long straight and heading out of the main park for the final time, I got a good glimpse of those immediately ahead of me and the leaders returning on the other side. Carl Stainton was firmly in 2nd place, with too much of a gap in front or behind him to likely change his podium position. Shaun Hemmings was in a small group for 4th, with a chance of climbing to either third or dropping down to fifth. Up ahead of me, I could see I was closing in on Darryll Thomas and the difference between us had likely reduced to just 30 – 40 seconds or so compared to the first lap.

Rounding the switchback, I once again swung myself with both hands to slingshot me for the return. Unsure of what was taking place immediately behind me, I pressed on to claim two scalps ahead. Conflicting feedback from the other side suggested I was either 7th or 8th, or just outside of the top 10. My pace sat steady and did not drift from 7km onwards for 3:54.

Just ahead of me was a BRAT runner, where the distance between us grew and shrank like an accordion. At one point, I was within 10m, and at other times, he easily had more than 50m on me.

The finish for this race was awkwardly located within some of Cannon Hill Park’s inner paths, making identification of the actual finish line and big sprint finishes quite a challenge. I’ve lost a lot of finishing power this year, and with nobody immediately in front or behind me, I could only muster a half-hearted attempt despite cheers from the side lines.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I finished feeling pretty damn good and certainly better than recent parkruns at a reduced pace!

Darryll came over to share that he scored a PB by some 30 seconds or so, continuing his triumphant year of achievements (including an unexpected 1st v40 prize). It was only when he commented that I must have been close to a PB that I remembered to check my finishing time. 38:47 stared back at me – just another 3 seconds would have secured a fresh 10k best! I really had no clue I was so close, especially as I’d consigned myself to just wanting a sub-40 finish and a top 10 position, which I just sneaked into with 10th.

Carl finished in 2nd place as anticipated, agreeing that there was too much of a gap either side for a major podium shakeup. Shaun finished in 4th, improving upon a year ago by 3 minutes. Lis improved upon her 10k PB, originally set at the Wolverhampton race by some 4 minutes. Despite her protestations, I keep telling her that she’ll easily go under an hour with 2 months of consistency behind her.

Post-race thoughts

I care not that I just missed a PB by such a fine, unknown margin. I had a thoroughly enjoyable morning in the company of some fine members of the local running community, who I’m pleased did achieve PBs and prizes. Lis knocking 4 minutes off her 10k best meant the Yu household was not devoid of PBs to be celebrated.

What this race has highlighted is that I’m not in bad shape at all after the Yorkshire Marathon. Targeting 83:30 or better in January’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon doesn’t look like it’ll be a fool’s errand, with plenty of time between now and then to capitalise on the improvements from a change in stimulus, namely a focus on lactate threshold and half marathon pace. The next upcoming race will be the Sneyd Christmas Pudding 10 mile, which should prove to be a reliable gauge of potential as well as being a potent stimulus in and of itself.

 

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

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Home away from home

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

5k recovery

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles from work

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5k recovery with strides

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Magor 10k 2017 review

For the full report, please click here.

10 miles – to Usk and back

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

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

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

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

Magor 10k 2017 review

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

My fourth outing at this flat and fast race.

Pre-race

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

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

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

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

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

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

The race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

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

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

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

 

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2017 review

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Fifth outing at this no longer well-kept secret of a 10k – photo by Lis Yu

For previous years’ races, please click below:

Pre-race

Covering the recent Aldridge 10k at marathon pace felt like the right thing to do at the time, but the race felt somewhat hollow and unsatisfying. I’d worked hard over the years to get to a sub-40 10k performance, and last year looked like the first time where such a finish time was unlikely to trouble me expect on the most hilly of routes.

By comparison, the Wythall Hollywood 10k carries a much gentler profile, even with it’s two 1km long climbs over 2 laps. Last year was the first time I ran sub-40 on the route, also sharing the joint-honour as my 10k PB course (the other race is the Magor Marsh 10k). With this week technically classed as my cutback week, a sub-40 performance would dovetail nicely as a lactate threshold session to try and widen my arsenal of paces. Darryll Thomas, whom I first met at the race three years ago, also wanted a sub-40 performance, and so the goal was set!

There’s a lot going for this race and I can’t stress enough how much there is going for it. It seemed others have also finally caught on to it, because it looked like there was a new attendance record at almost a thousand based on bib numbers – perhaps this will persuade the organisers to give chip timing a shot next year, which really is the only thing that lets the race down, especially for those caught up in the middle or back of the pack.

Bib collected from race HQ, I recognised sizable representation from BRAT, Bournville Harriers and Kings Heath Running Club, with a couple of other clubs also in attendance.

Arriving slightly later than originally planned for, I made a beeline to get my warm-up in, which probably could have been at least another 0.5 miles longer in an ideal world. Nonetheless, I breathed a sigh of relief to have gotten all of my pre-race admin completed with a little time to spare to catch-up with a few local faces I recognised. However, there was still no sign of Darryll Thomas…

It was time to assemble on the start line and with just minutes to spare, Darryll finally appeared for our joint-venture to share the sub-40 effort. We noticed we’d somehow positioned ourselves behind several kids, so a wide berth off the line was factored in. “3-2-1” and the beginning of circa-40 minutes of lactate threshold hell had begun…

The race

We both settled into race pace early on and commented that we would reel plenty of people in who had taken off at what was more likely their 5k pace. Confusingly, this may have actually held true for those in the much smaller 5k race. I pointed out a couple of faces to Darryll who we likely wanted to keep an eye on as ability barometers that typically aligned closely to us; worryingly, Barry Fallon had built up quite a lead of some 200m in a matter of minutes, so he was off the radar, though a Bournville Harrier that’s always a couple of steps ahead of me at all distances continued to track closely. 1km came in at 3:58 to be precisely on target.

The course throws a lengthy climb in, lasting a little over a km and needing to be tackled twice. Darryll and I both commented that attendance was noticeably up on previous years, where we’d historically finished in the 41 to 42 minute range to find ourselves running in no-man’s land. On this occasion, there were plenty of people around us with positions often chopping and changing. Whereas we’d agreed for me to do the heavy lifting on climbs, Darryll kept pace with me much of the ascent, with the split slowing to 4:10 and staying firmly to plan.

Our plan had us taking advantage of the high-speed downhill section after the climb to recover some of the damage, and to also buffer a little time for the second lap. Darryll took the reins and paved much of the way on the descent, with me in tow. With a 3k split of 3:50, we were back on target and eased off slightly for some recovery.

The ever-present chap with his hosepipe was once again on the scene to cool us runners down. The sight of him and access to multiple water stops got me thinking that, despite the total 2km of climbing, the course is conducive to fast times. Athletes are able to better manage the heat of racing, with several people and me citing the course as home to their 10k PBs. I’ve run much flatter 10k races historically, but as single lap events with a single water station, it becomes much harder to continue red-lining when you’re overheating at just halfway.

One of the kids from the 5k race was able to stick with us, and regardless of the very wide and traffic-free route, decided he needed to run through the two of us. “Out of the way,” he said, precociously! In no rush of our own on this steady split, we parted and allowed him through, only for us to overtake him as we exited the Phoenix complex. 4km clocked in for 3:51 for more time in the bank.

I spotted Paul Harris spectating, rather than running this year, for a welcome morale boost. Shortly afterwards on the bridge, I had Lis hand me a bottle of water as she does every year – another one of those little things that allows this race to be faster than its profile would normally allow. Unlike most years, the bottle needed to thaw out a bit more because there wasn’t much water to be had from it! A few sips between Darryll and me didn’t allow much left to be thrown over our heads, so it was fortunate that we weren’t running in the amped up temperatures from a week prior. 5km came in at 3:58 for the split and 19:46 at halfway.

The Bournville Harrier I’d pointed out was narrowly drifting away, such was the level of his ability relative to ours. Barry, however, loomed ever closer with each step. 6k registered 4:03 for some definitely slow-down, likely due to the undulations from the country lane.

Turning the corner for the second approach of the climb, I took the lead whilst Darryll and a Leamington Spa Strider, who’d remained with us thus far, sat in behind me. I’d reeled Barry in and gave him some encouragement to latch on to our group, but it was to no avail. His ambitious first half had come back to bite him, though I was still confident he could break 40 minutes with a re-focused final 3km. The climb had definitely knocked some of the wind from our sails the second time around, producing a 7k split of 4:14 and 4 seconds down compared to lap 1.

We took advantage once more of the near-2km long descent, with Darryll moving into position and taking the lead, whilst I followed to gain some recovery. The climb had taken a little more out of me than anticipated, and even with running downhill, I couldn’t get my legs to turnover any quicker. The 8k split also slowed a tad to 3:54, though still within acceptable limits.

Passing my man with the hosepipe, I requested an absolute drenching, which instantly freshened me up for the remainder of the race. Entering the Phoenix complex for the final time, I continued to bring up the rear of our three man pack before moving back into the lead. The 9k split produced 3:51 to match perfectly with lap 1.

I switched up my Garmin to elapsed time and began giving real time updates. As I called out, “36 minutes” a little on from 9k, a whole host of runners all crept out nowhere to surprise me, Darryll and the Leamington Spa Strider! Renewed interest in a sub-40 finish? Hiding in nearby bushes and skipping out a lap like I used to at school cross-country? Who knows…

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Final 500m of the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2017 – photo by Lis Yu

Passing Paul and Lis once again, I was spurred on to begin wrapping up the race. I continued to give minute by minute time updates as I led the charge back to race HQ and the finish. My legs had recovered from earlier and I found myself able to open up my stride and push on. Returning to race HQ, I was cheered on by a few kids, shouting out my race number, and also Cannon Hill parkrunner, David Carruthers, stood on the final corner. There was no need for a mad sprint as I knew I was on the right side of 40 minutes!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

Coming back in with 39:42, that was possibly the most comfortable end to a sub-40 10k I’ve ever experienced. I caught my breath back within seconds as I got to see a flurry of runners crossing the line, including Darryll for 39:43.

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Mission accomplished – photo by Lis Yu

The two of us are pretty damn pleased with the performances, after very little respective work at lactate threshold pace outside of parkruns and maybe the odd session. As I keep reiterating to myself, this season is all about one almighty goal, so I’m about where I want to be concerning 10k pace. If I’m feeling a little sharper by the time of the Magor Marsh 10k in late July, I may see if something in the region of 39:15 is possible.

Congratulations go out to Alex Mold for another second place podium finish in the women’s race, and Steve Dunsby for another 3rd place podium finish in the men’s race.

A 5k warm-down rounded off a pretty satisfying day, with not nearly as much suffering at lactate threshold as originally envisaged!

 

Aldridge 10k 2017 review

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Third outing for me at the infamously hilly Aldridge 10k.

For the 2013 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

It’s a dangerous thing chasing after past glories. A year ago, I ran 39:16 in utterly dreadful conditions, and possibly could have gone harder if the appetite was there that day. As satisfying as it would be to equal that performance, I knew it simply wasn’t going to happen without the right training behind me. To save myself from failure, I pivoted the race’s outlook to simply cover the distance at marathon pace; a chat with Simon Rhodes of Birchfield Harriers beforehand gave me some solace that he, too, was suffering from marathon pace robbing him of speed over shorter distances, so I wasn’t alone.

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No torrential rain this year!

After the recent pre-race chaos at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, Simon of the Bull variety and I decided to set off earlier to factor in potential delay with parking, bib collection and so forth. As it turned out, we breezed through traffic, found a parking space immediately, and collected our bibs without delay! With plenty of time on our hands to kill, we took on a gentle 2km jog that largely covered the opening stretch of the race; oddly enough for a race that I’ve run thrice, and Simon twice, neither of us could picture much of the first half of the route!

Waiting for the start was a completely different experience to that of last year’s wash-out. There was no need to huddle underneath anything for shelter; aside from a strong breeze and looming dark clouds, conditions actually looked quite favourable. On the Mayor’s count of, “3-2-1”, and the hooter, we were off.

The race

My urge to resist charging off with the crowd failed miserably; I found myself covering the first few hundred metres at 6:24 per mile, which would equate to a sub-40 10k, rather than the prescribed 6:50 per mile for marathon pace… I gradually applied the anchors and eased back into marathon pace, which really highlighted how much chopping and changing there was in the opening km. Just to confuse you guys, I recorded splits in km, but was pacing by miles: 6:51 was the recorded pace.

There was a fair bit of pavement hopping due to the race not taking place on closed roads. The organisers made specific reference during the briefing that earphones were not permitted for safety reasons, to which we both quietly chuckled at the sight of a woman trying to be ever so discreet whilst taking hers off and putting them away in her non-existent pockets… But, at least she took them off, because just in front of me was a guy that was very clearly wearing them and rather oblivious to those around him. The organisers did say they would be disqualifying those they caught wearing earphones, which really is the only deterrent, because it’s pointless having rules that can’t or won’t be enforced.

Anyway… I got caught up in a small group with the earphones guy and a Bournville Harrier, which persisted for much of the race. With the undulations in place, maintaining marathon pace was more challenging than I was used to, courtesy of the flat canals I’m accustomed to. I sense some training modifications coming up! The second km clocked in at 6:47 pace.

Remember when I said that Simon and I both struggled to recall much of the first half of the race? It could be entirely because of a sharp-ish climb somewhere in the third km, though there is a fairly enjoyable downhill stretch in the fourth km for compensation. Largely by the numbers, the third and fourth km splits came in at 6:38 and 6:42 pace, so I was beginning to speed up ever so slightly.

Just before halfway was another sharp climb to test me further before the water stop. It’s rare that I don’t take on some water during a race, so my hydration tactics of late must have been working. Be that as it may, I was growing increasingly warmer as the race progressed, largely due to the undulations but also from the sun that peaked out from behind the clouds – some water to go over my head was most welcome. As I neared one of the volunteers handing out cups of water, I stretched out my hand only for her to pull the cup of water away! She had one job to do and failed spectacularly! I had to sidestep and thrust my arm in to prise the cup from her hand, or go without; good thing I wasn’t thirsty… 5km came in at 6:33 pace, largely due to some benefit from some downhill stretches.

The Bournville Harrier and I continued to chop and change places, where he tended to lead on descents and I gained on the climbs. 6km steadied itself for 6:38 pace.

The seventh km was exclusively downhill and I recall making massive gains on this portion of last year’s race. Runners were completely exposed to the sun at this stage with no shade, so it was a blessing that the descent was so effortless to result in 6:19 pace.

Turning the corner, I knew full well that it was pretty much a mile of climbing to the finish. I could see Simon Rhodes on the horizon as I crept closer and closer to him. He, too, was covering his marathon pace of circa-7:00 minutes per mile, so must have seen some red mist to be that far ahead of me. The Bournville Harrier managed to gain a decent lead from the preceding downhill stretch, but he was also being reeled in. 8km showed the first signs of slowdown for 6:43 pace.

Moving into the final km, I overtook Simon and offered some encouragement, though not too much because I knew he had another 5 miles to cover to get back home for 18 miles in total. Shortly afterwards, I’d also regrouped with the Bournville Harrier to share a bit of banter before continuing my charge up the lengthy climb. 9km slowed to 6:52 pace and my slowest split of the race by less than a second.

Near the top of the climb, I finally saw another competitor and powered past him on my way to the finish, which seemed to take a lifetime to reach. I could hear the PA system being used to call out runners’ names as they went through the finish line, but it was several minutes and several hundred metres before it came into sight. Passing one of the final remaining marshals on the course, he offered me a cheer of, “Looking good, no.139. Or should that be 171?” Just 24 hours prior, I was joking with the coffee gang after Cannon Hill parkrun about my “171” tattoo causing confusion in races, where people assume I must be really into triathlon, or similar.

Final corner turned, I found myself firmly back on the playing field where Simon Bull and I had completed 200m of strides before the race. There was a chap just metres ahead of me, who I was impressed to see covering the most efficient racing line through the snaking remainder of the course, marked out by tape on posts. There was no desire or need for a sprint finish, so I simply maintained pace across the line and even got a mention by name over the PA system.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I could get used to the non-sprint finishes; recovery was swift and I regained my breath within a minute or so to cheer Simon Rhodes in and to shake hands with the Bournville Harrier. Collecting the medal and goody bag, one of the volunteers congratulated me by name to confuse me, somewhat. A blog reader, perhaps? Or maybe they simply caught it via the PA system as I finished, which was most likely.

Whilst I recorded a finish time of 41:27, my official chip time came in at 41:24, so I must have been premature starting my Garmin crossing the start. Over 2 minutes slower than a year ago, which only highlights how robbed I was of a representative 10k PB in 2016; the pancake flat Magor 10k took place on a blisteringly hot day, causing me to collapse from heat exhaustion, and the Telford 10k was a DNF due to carrying a bad cold. The 10k distance remains my nemesis, so it’ll be so, so sweet when I finally conquer it!

I ran over to the 300m point to cheer in Simon Bull. He wore his “Bull Fit” t-shirt, prompting me to shout, “Come on, Simon! All the way to the end! Bull Fit! Bull Fit!” I did then wonder whether anybody thought I was shouting, “bullshit”, instead… I urged Simon on to take a few scalps in the remaining 200m, of which he claimed 5 with a sprint for the finish.

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A bit parched afterwards!

Once back at home, I bulked out the day’s distance with a 5k warm-down to make up 10 miles.

Thoughts and conclusions

Marathon pace over 6 miles accomplished, and with no negative side effects. My Garmin reported a recovery window of just 23 hours and a boosted VO2max reading from 61 to 62 (63 is my record high, achieved only once).

With the Wythall Hollywood 10k in two weeks’ time, I’m in two minds about covering it at marathon pace, or to have a bash at creeping in under 40 minutes for old times’ sake. I’m conscious that there’s benefit to both approaches: increased exposure to marathon pace ahead of the big day, or improving my lactate threshold, which is pitiful right now. I also have the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon six days afterwards, which needs factoring in.

 

Ronnie Bowker 10k 2017 review

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Whoops. Wrong Ronnie…

For previous years’ races, please click below:

Sod all training and a warm race day meant it would be a tough day at the race office…

Pre-race

Despite this race being virtually on my doorstep, it was not originally on my radar for this year. Suffering my post-injury funk, it was Dave Burton that suggested I enter this and the Great Birmingham 10k as soft targets to work towards. Well, the Great Birmingham 10k ain’t happening for me (mix up of dates and availability), and Dave didn’t participate in the Ronnie Bowker 10k, though I did manage to rope Simon Bull into signing up.

Deciding to jog to Cannon Hill Park as my warm-up, I definitely left it a bit late to get to race HQ. Reaching the MAC, a lengthy queue awaited leaving less time than ideal to collect my number and get all of my pre-race admin in order. Being a local race also meant a lot of folks to talk to from local clubs and Cannon Hill parkrun – apologies if I had to cut any of my conversations short before the race!

Whilst I had a target of skimming sub-40, I had a feeling such a finish would be unlikely. I’m only just getting back into regular training, with this week being my first without interruption or injury since December for 35 miles. Running parkrun the day prior, even whilst at a slower than usual pace, meant there was no taper, either. Oh, and throw on the sudden heat wave to the pile of excuses, too!

The race

The scramble off the line was nuts; it was like the start line of a 5k in much cooler temperatures rather than a 10k on the warmest day of the year.

I settled into target pace with the aid of drafting behind another runner. My aim was to keep the first half feeling as relaxed and composed as possible to allow for a swifter second half at around normal 5k pace.

I could bore you all, but the first half really was quite relaxed, producing the following splits:

  1. 3:58
  2. 4:09
  3. 3:59
  4. 4:07
  5. 4:00

Not my finest pacing, but I was at the mercy of the other bloke doing much of the hard work to shield me from the wind. Only thing of note in the first half was almost having to wrestle a cup of water away from the volunteer to throw over myself!

By halfway, everybody was feeling it and the pace noticeably slowed for all concerned. I could now see Darryll Thomas on the horizon, whereas the previous occasion was just before the start. Based on the info received from marshals out on the course, I had moved from 16th to 11th in a matter of minutes. I also found myself in the dreaded no-man’s land, running alone and with no shelter to protect me…

I was able to maintain the momentum briefly for a 4:01 6th km, though my pace also deteriorated. An ugly 4:16 7th km signalled a sub-40 finish was probably no longer possible, leaving too much work left to do in too little time.

On the return from the turnaround point on the second lap, I received new information that I had moved up a few additional positions to sit at 9th place.

Re-entering the main park, I gritted my teeth in an attempt to squeeze more out of my under-trained and withered body. It resisted and even gave me cramp in my left foot for daring to attempt something so ridiculous!

By the time I’d reached the MAC for the second time, retrieving two cups of water to throw over myself was much more successful.

8th place was within striking distance as I was finally able to free up some resources for an injection of pace. Encouraging the Warley Woods Pacer on, little did I realise it was Carl Stainton’s club mate, Mike Harrison – somebody I should have recognised as he’s in my network of Garmin Connect and Strava followers (epic fail).

Rounding the final corner, I kicked on and could see Darryll was now perhaps 150m away, and that sub-40 was perhaps back on. I threw in everything I had left whilst willing the finish line to move closer by a few metres. My Garmin had yet to beep to indicate I’d reached 10k, so maybe, just maybe, I was in with a slim chance still?

Post-race

I crossed the line and exhaustion immediately set in, commanding that I sit myself down. My breathing continued to chug away like a steam locomotive, whilst sweat dripped profusely – there was little more I could have done given the hand of cards I’d been dealt.

Checking my Garmin, I learned I’d crossed the line in 40:15 and that I’d only logged 9.87km/6.1 miles to explain why my Garmin had yet to beep.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Being a glass is half full kind of guy, I guess the good news is I still came away faster than the 2015 race which will have had an uninterrupted build-up along with two half marathons (one a PB) as part of the cycle. Work to be done, for sure, but I haven’t drifted backwards nearly as much as I feared in the grand scheme of things. The data indicates this will have been a rather powerful training stimulus, so it’s onwards and upwards from here!